After months of speculation, the Miami Dolphins on Thursday night landed their quarterback of the future in Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa.
While you probably know about the Dolphins’ long, miserable stretch in quarterback hell since Dan Marino’s retirement, let’s acknowledge that Tagovailoa’s road to the Dolphins hasn’t been easy either. From the wide assortment of injuries he suffered during his college career, to the tornado that destroyed his car in early March, Tagovailoa’s road to Miami over the past year has been a winding one, full of ups and downs.
Start with the car, which was damaged by the tornado that pierced through Nashville, Tennessee, Tagovailoa told reporters Thursday. He was rehabbing his hip there, and was awakened by a tornado warning on his phone at 1 a.m. Minutes later, the tornado hit his apartment complex and his car was ruined.
Now, it’s Miami’s job to ensure that the incident wasn’t a dire omen for his era with the team. The Dolphins have control of this, believe it or not, and can take a giant step toward protecting their investment with a two-pronged approach.
The first is surrounding the 6-foot, 217-pounder with all the help he needs to get the Dolphins out of purgatory. That means beefing up the offensive line, and they did that Thursday, when they used the 18th overall pick on massive USC offensive tackle Austin Jackson. They need to keep going and fortify the interior of the line with the multitude of picks they have this weekend.
The second, and arguably most important step they can take to put Tagovailoa in an ideal position is easy in theory, but difficult for most teams to follow. And that’s doing what the Kansas City Chiefs, the reigning Super Bowl champions, did in 2017 and put their promising first-round quarterback in a redshirt season in 2020.
That year, the Chiefs moved up to draft Patrick Mahomes in the first round, and it didn’t take long for coaches, teammates and front-office staffers to see that he was special special. He was whipping the ball all around the practice field in OTAs, showing off the rare arm talent that would make him the Super Bowl MVP. But the Chiefs and coach Andy Reid, who already had an accomplished starter in Alex Smith, had determined it would be a year for Mahomes to sit and learn. To work on his footwork. To not just learn the plays well enough to call them in a game, but to master them. To observe Smith and learn how to lead grown men through times of adversity.
And the Chiefs stuck with it, even in the midst of a five-game losing streak. And while they finished with double-digit wins, Mahomes later admitted that year under Smith contributed to him becoming the youngest MVP in 35 years in 2018, his first year as a starter.
“I wouldn’t mind going that route,” Tagovailoa told Yahoo Sports at the NFL scouting combine in February. “[But] if the team needs me to be the guy, I’m going to step up and work hard and be the last one in, first one out, and do my best.”
Expect nothing less from an established competitor like Tagovailoa, whose football character and personality as an alpha get rave reviews.
“At the same time, as a competitor, I want to be able to play,” Tagovailoa told Yahoo Sports.
Mahomes said similar things, but like Tagovailoa, he understood how much he’d benefit from that redshirt year. Tagovailoa will similarly benefit and embrace a tutelage under Ryan Fitzpatrick, a beloved veteran who can hold down Miami’s quarterback fort in 2020.
And heck, you can even argue it’s even more important for Miami to stick to that plan with Tagovailoa, since he would probably benefit physically from a year off from being hit. His hip wouldn’t mind that.
He can run the scout team like Mahomes did, all the while learning the playbook and getting accustomed to the speed of NFL defenses. He can also use the year off and further build up his body with the strength and conditioning staff.
By the time Tagovailoa takes over in 2021, the young offensive linemen the Dolphins should add this year would be a year stronger and more cohesive.
“In a system like the NFL, it’s a totally different world,” Tagovailoa said. “Practices aren’t the same — you won’t get the same amount of reps. Watching film is totally different because the availability of your coach isn’t going to be there. So it’s about independent [studying], and then how you prepare as a team.
“So I think in that sense, it’s always good to have a veteran leading you, helping you, guiding you. And I think that’s how a lot of the greats now, they’ve been mentored by really good guys.”
And if the Dolphins follow that plan, Tagovailoa could be one of the greats, too, forever condemning the pre-draft destruction of his car by a tornado to a wacky historical footnote.
“I believe I’m going to get healthy,” Tagovailoa said in February. “I’m bionic at this point. I’ve got metal here, metal there. At this point, I don’t think it will be an issue.”
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