Dolphins’ Deshaun Watson pursuit a reality check for Tua Tagovailoa

November 5, 2021
Tua Tagovailoa has thrown for 18 TDs with 10 INTs in 15 career NFL games.


Tua is vaccinated!

No, that wasn’t the big takeaway when Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa met with the local media this week. But given the Aaron Rodgers situation, it was worth some confirmation.

The “whoa!” moment, though, came when someone asked Tagovailoa what he thought of Dolphins owner Stephen Ross receiving permission to talk with Deshaun Watson on the eve of the NFL’s trade deadline. That’s the same Ross who last year was apparently so bullish on the decision to bypass Justin Herbert and draft Tagovailoa with the fifth pick overall.

Tagovailoa, bless him, insisted that he hadn’t heard of that development until that moment.

Guess that’s why they call it a news conference, even if the information cycle was purportedly reversed on that one key question. But really: Where’s he been? It’s one thing to be a quarterback buried in a cave studying videos and the playbook. Yet it’s another rather fascinating thing to think that no one (an agent, maybe?) would have brought Ross’ move to Tagovailoa’s attention before Wednesday, given all the buzz for months about the next destination for the Houston Texans’ idled quarterback.

Miami’s pursuit of Watson fell through, at least for the time being, yet spoke volumes about its commitment to Tagovailoa as the long-term answer at quarterback. And it was quite the cold-business, NFL reality check for Tagovailoa.

Even if you’re not of the mind that a team should try to land a quarterback with 22 civil suits hanging over his head, stemming from a series of alleged sexually-charged incidents with a stream of massage therapists, Miami’s interest in landing Watson, which left Tagovailoa’s status twisting in the wind bucks the typical pattern of delicately handling the quarterback.

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In an NFL universe where premium talent (like Watson) often get multiple chances while embroiled in controversy and losing gets GMs and coaches fired, the Dolphins (1-7) can’t be blamed for pursuing Watson. Besides, Watson has a no-trade clause and declared that he would only accept a deal that sends him to Miami.

It’s just that the optics are off. It looks like the Dolphins have sent a clear message that they are hellbent on upgrading the quarterback position despite laying the big bet last year on Tagovailoa.

It also seems that Tagovailoa can’t catch a break. He got back on track after his college career at Alabama was cut short by a dislocated hip, then had an up-and-down rookie season while since-departed veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick was a bigger reason why Miami nearly made the playoffs. As he and his team expected to make a big jump this season, Tagovailoa suffered fractured ribs that knocked him out for three games. On top of it, the Watson cloud hovered over the Dolphins as long-running drama.

Tagovailoa is vaccinated. Now if he can only be immunized from the mess of recent weeks.

Relieved that the trade deadline has passed?

“Not necessarily,” Tagovailoa responded. He went on to explain that the focus is on growing and winning. He didn’t have to say that pressure, in one form or another, is inherit with the job.

Ironically, Tagovailoa’s team on Sunday will host Houston (1-7), which matches Miami’s seven-game losing streak that is the longest in the league beyond Detroit’s 0-8 start. With Watson on the shelf all season as a healthy scratch, the Texans will roll with Tyrod Taylor at quarterback. And Taylor, with his fifth NFL team, can tell you all about being cast aside for a different vision at quarterback.

This is also all about the opportunity that Tagovailoa still has and needs to embrace. Never mind the optics. He can still change the perceptions that Miami blew it by passing on Herbert, who has sizzled for the Chargers. He can change the thinking that Miami still needs to fix its quarterback position.

Tagovailoa is only a year and a half into his NFL career. There’s much development that needs to happen for him to succeed, development that doesn’t come without playing time. His 85.9 passer rating and 7-to-5 TD-to-INT ratio this season don’t prompt Dan Marino comparisons, and the long-ball impact has been spotty. But there have been some flashes along the way.

That his NFL education has come with such a stiff reality check as teams are way less patient with young quarterback, is just something he needs to deal with while playing with grown men in an ultra-competitive environment.

Adversity, as Dolphins coach Brian Flores reiterated this week, will either make you or break you.

“Part of playing in this league, coaching in this league, is blocking out and ignoring noise and distractions, things of that nature,” Flores said. “If you can’t do that, then your energy is on something that it shouldn’t be on. If you can do that, your energy is on something that it should be on. The message here is always, ‘Let’s put our energy in the right places.'”

Tagovailoa seems game enough. He needs to be, with nine games left in the regular season.

“The first thing, we want to get a win,” he said. “We’ll start with that this week. Try to get a win and obviously build off of that.”

Whether he wants to declare it as such, there is so much to prove.

Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jarrett Bell on Twitter @JarrettBell.


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