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Tua Tagovailoa has some serious decisions to make after latest head injury | Opinion

Tua Tagovailoa and the Miami Dolphins have several decisions they need to make regarding their futures, both separately and collectively, following his second stint in the NFL’s concussion protocol.

For Tagovailoa: Is returning to play this season worth it? Is it even an option? And is continuing to play beyond this season worth the future, unknown risk?

For the Dolphins: Which backup QB gets tapped to close out a playoff run? And is Tagovailoa still their quarterback for the future?

“He’s at a crossroads in his career,” ESPN analyst Ryan Clark said on “First Take” Tuesday morning.

It’s easy to see players hit their head or collide with someone else’s and know they should be removed from a game. But advising someone to not play again next week? Or the following week? Or to end his playing career?

Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers hugs Tua Tagovailoa #1 of the Miami Dolphins on the field after the game at Hard Rock Stadium on December 25, 2022 in Miami Gardens, Florida.
Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers hugs Tua Tagovailoa #1 of the Miami Dolphins on the field after the game at Hard Rock Stadium on December 25, 2022 in Miami Gardens, Florida.

Those are decisions only Tagovailoa, his family and medical professionals can make — even though it appears an easy call for NFL pundits and spectators to make for him.

And those are decisions for another day.

Not for one day after Tagovailoa self-reported concussion-like symptoms Monday. And two days after he hit the back of his head in the second quarter of the Dolphins’ Christmas Day loss to the Green Bay Packers, then threw three interceptions in the fourth quarter. .

“I told him to take care of himself, too,” Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said he told Tagovailoa after the game. “He’s had some pretty vicious hits this year. But he’s a good kid. He’s got a long career in the league to look forward to.”

TAGOVAILOA SHOWING SYMPTOMS: Dolphins QB enters concussion protocol

NFLPA STRESSES CAUTION: Union's medical chief says health, safety paramount

The NFL Players’ Association is reviewing the Tagovailoa incident during the Packers game, a person with direct knowledge of the situation told USA TODAY Sports on Tuesday. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Sunday was at least the third time Tagovailoa hit the back of his head on the field this season. He was allowed to return in the second half against the Bills on Sept. 25. He was stretched off the field four days later against the Bengals. And he continued playing against the Packers.

This is the second time he has entered concussion protocol this season. And Tagovailoa has been diagnosed with at least one concussion, which occurred during the Bengals game.

Video of Tagovailoa’s latest blow to the head circulated after the game on social media, where it’s so easy to overanalyze and extrapolate the sequence that began with him being tripped from behind by a Packers player during the second quarter.

“As far as the game was concerned, no one recognized anything with regard to any sort of hit,” Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel said Monday. “I can’t really tell you exactly what it was. I’m not totally positive on that.”

Tagovailoa handed the ball off one play later. He went through halftime. He completed 7 of 13 passes for 81 yards in the second half with three interceptions in the fourth quarter. He conducted his postgame interview after the loss.

“It was just terrible how everything ended. Like I told the guys, that’s on me,” Tagovailoa said after the game. “I will definitely get better from that.”

Against the Packers, Tagovailoa did not display any signs of ataxia, where his balance, motor coordination or speech were affected — symptoms included in a new regulation added to the NFL’s concussion protocol after Tagovailoa displayed them against the Bengals and the league investigated the Dolphins' handling of the incident.

Still, the head injury again unfolded during  a  high-profile game, with all eyes on him and the Dolphins.

And it’s been met with considerable debate and coverage from all angles in the sports news cycle.

“I totally believe the Dolphins deserve full criticism … They’ve failed Tua multiple occasions,” former NFL running back Fred Taylor said on First Take.

“How can you blame the Dolphins when there were no signs? Quarterbacks throw three interceptions … so, that’s not a sign of a concussion,” former Dolphins linebacker Channing Crowder, who hosts The Pivot podcast with Clark and Taylor, responded on the ESPN show.

“Tua said he felt different. They evaluated him. And then, they said he’s in protocol. They did exactly what the NFL tells them to do. Y’all tell me exactly what more they could have done.”

Tagovailoa was evaluated by at least four doctors in Miami, Detroit and Pittsburgh during his three-game absence before returning to play against the Steelers on Oct. 23. The extent of testing he will undergo this time is still unknown.

Beyond Tagovailoa's recovery and career decisions, the Dolphins have decisions they must make for the rest of the season and beyond.

In the short term, they have two games left to try to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2016, and just the third time in the last 20 years. The Dolphins need a win against the Patriots and need the Jets to lose in Seattle to clinch a playoff spot Sunday.

Backups Teddy Bridgewater and Skylar Thompson are Miami’s options with Tagovailoa sidelined.

Should the Dolphins reach the postseason, they’ll need to again assess their QB1's availability.

The real intrigue will take place in the offseason, where Tagovailoa’s fifth-year contract option or a long-term contract must be considered. And neither seems like an appealing choice.

If the Dolphins want to draft another quarterback, they won’t have a first-round pick to use in 2023. They traded one to the Broncos to acquire edge rusher Bradley Chubb at the trade deadline, while another was forfeited after tampering with Sean Payton and Tom Brady.

“You want to bring him back. He’s obviously had a very good year. He’s an improved player,” ESPN analyst Mike Tannebaum, a former Dolphins front office executive, said on “Get Up” Tuesday morning.

“You’re going to need depth at that position because Tua is a very productive player, but his availability is a big concern.”

“I can’t with good conscience sign him to a long-term contact,” former NFL linebacker Bart Scott said in response.

Regardless, Tagovailoa must adjust his playing style after his head injuries if he’s going to continue playing football.

He has a penchant for holding onto the football until the last possible moment in hopes of extending plays, and he has shown no qualms about running with the football and diving headfirst to gain extra yardage.

Those situations are applauded when Tagovailoa can get up and celebrate a first down. But it’s a far different situation when the outcome results in injury and doubts about his future.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Tua Tagovailoa has serious decisions to make after latest head injury