The Future of Tua
To deem the 2020 Miami Dolphins anything besides a success would be harsh.
Yes, failing to make the playoffs was disappointing. Yet the team doubled its win total from five in 2019 to 10 this season, going from last place in the AFC East to second place in the division.
However, even with their first winning campaign since 2016, the Dolphins have questions to answer this offseason – and that includes at the quarterback position.
The Dolphins selected Tua Tagovailoa out of Alabama with the fifth pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, and while the rookie quarterback went 6-3 in nine starts, his individual performance often left much to be desired, especially as the season dragged on.
Tagovailoa provided high points throughout the year, winning his first three starts while throwing five touchdowns and zero interceptions.
But he also had five games where he failed to pass for at least 200 yards, including three in which he didn't reach 100 yards through the air.
And in the Dolphins' Week 16 comeback victory against the Las Vegas Raiders, Tagovailoa was benched in the fourth quarter in favor of veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who led the Dolphins to a win.
In that game, Fitzpatrick passed for 182 yards and a touchdown in only one quarter of action, while Tagovailoa threw for 94 yards and a touchdown in three quarters.
The performance opened the door for Fitzpatrick to possibly regain the starting job heading into a do-or-die matchup with the Buffalo Bills in Week 17, with a playoff berth on the line.
But Fitz-magic tested positive for COVID-19, and Tagovailoa started and finished the game under center.
He ended the day throwing three interceptions in a 56-26 rout.
Week 17 raised the question – what's next for Tua and Miami?
While analyzing Tagovailoa's skill set against his fellow rookie quarterback peers, such as Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert, Colin Cowherd explains why his safe style of play might hold him back from being a true franchise quarterback.
"I watch Herbert's size, and arm, and mobility. And I see Burrow's flexible, Tony Romo ad-lib, make-it-up coolness. And Tua's very system, and very safe."
Herbert, Burrow and Tagovailoa were the only three rookie quarterbacks to start nine or more games this season, and all three were selected in the top six picks of this year's draft.
And when their numbers are compared, it appears Cowherd's worries are well-founded.
Tua averaged the fewest yards per attempt of the three (6.25), while also throwing the fewest touchdowns (11).
Taking into account his inconsistent play during the regular, Chris Simms of NBC's Pro Football Talk wonders if Tagovailoa is truly the quarterback of the future for the Dolphins.
"At no point during the year did he show to be anywhere in the same stratosphere as Joe Burrow or Justin Herbert. I got questions."
If the Dolphins were to decide to go in another direction at quarterback, they would be in position to do so immediately. They own the third pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, acquired from the Houston Texans via trade for Laremy Tunsil last season, which could put them in line to take a quarterback in the top five for the second consecutive season.
There is a possibility they could select BYU quarterback Zach Wilson, or Ohio State's Justin Fields, the Buckeyes' superstar QB who just dominated Clemson in the Sugar Bowl.
Still, while speculation about Tagovailoa's future as the Dolphins franchise quarterback swirls, general manager Chris Grier said on Tuesday that the job will belong to Tua moving forward.
In addition, there is belief inside the Dolphins locker room that the young quarterback could be even better in year two, as expressed by Dolphins center Ted Karras.
Just how big Tua's jump will be is to be determined.