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Mailbag: Has the Media Been Unfair to Tua Tagovailoa?

The Dolphins’ QB is finally back on the field, but fair questions remain. Plus, answering your mail about Carson Wentz possibly turning a corner, Cam Newton’s fit in Seattle, why Daniel Snyder seems unlikely to lose his team and more.

You’ve got questions. I’ve got answers. Let’s go …

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From Mark Coleman (@wahoomark): Why hasn’t the media been fair to Tua?

Mark, I don’t know what’s unfair. To me, there have been two criticisms of Tua, neither being that he’s some terrible player. One, there’s concern about his ceiling, and I’m not sure we’ve gotten much to quell that one—he’s fine, but the jury’s out on whether he’s got the tools to grow into the kind of quarterback who can carry an offense. Two, there are questions over his durability going back to his college days that continue to gain validation.

Look, I’m not a scout, but I loved Tagovailoa coming out, and would’ve bet on him over Justin Herbert at the time. Every bit of evidence we’ve gotten since has told I was wrong. I won’t hang on to a take I was wrong about. It turns out that some of the issues Herbert had at Oregon were more Oregon’s issues than his own. We knew the physical ability was there, and now it’s being unlocked. Meanwhile, the fast, instinctive game Tagovailoa played at Alabama hasn’t immediately transferred, and his physical shortcomings have shown up.

Does that mean he can’t play? It does not. We need to stop acting like questioning whether a quarterback can become, say, a top-five or even top-10 player at his position is some sort of horrible insult. Simple math will tell you that those sorts of quarterbacks can’t just come into the league every year. Herbert’s very clearly shown the ability to be one. Joe Burrow too. Things are iffier with Tagovailoa 22 games into his time there (and he's only played in 13).

I do think Tagovailoa’s going to play a lot of years in the NFL. That’s not the question to me. The question is going to be, 16 months from now, when Tagovailoa is eligible for a second contract, whether he’s worth handing $45 million per year to. Because fair or not, when a quarterback is drafted in the first round, that’s the bar. Which brings us to our next question from a very lively Dolphins fan base.

From Eric Lavine (@Ebl5680): When you mentioned that Miami may try to upgrade QB from good to great on Zo and Bertrand last week (like the Rams and 49ers), did you mean Deshaun Watson or something else?

Eric, I didn’t mean any one player in particular. The basic question is simpler than trying to find the right fit in a quarterback. It’s, basically, Will the Dolphins at some point make like the Rams and Niners, and dump a young quarterback they developed for one with potential to take the team further? Remember, both L.A. and San Francisco moved off quarterbacks in their 20s who took them to Super Bowls and were under contract for multiple years.

Add that to how the Cardinals dumped Josh Rosen a year after trading up to get him with the 10th pick, because Arizona figured Kyler Murray would be better for what Kliff Kingsbury was going to do, and you can see the climate at the position has changed.

What makes this one really interesting is how it relates to the future of coach Brian Flores and GM Chris Grier. Let’s say Miami needs to get to 9–8 to make the playoffs this year. At 1–5 now, that’d mean going 8–3 the rest of the way. Could they do that? Sure. But if they don’t, that’ll be three straight playoff-less years. I still think they’d get a fourth year without getting to playoffs, rare as that is (Jon Gruden’s the only recent example), but then they’d without question have to make it next year.

At that point, the question would become whether Grier and Flores are willing to bet their jobs on Tagovailoa’s being the guy to get them there, and they might have to decide on that bet at a time when Watson, Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers are out there on the trade block.

Anyway, all that’s why I believe Tagovailoa has a lot on the line over the next 11 games.

From Bob Soccol (@ubobber): Cam Newton in Seattle, is he really an upgrade to Geno Smith?

Bob, I really don’t know. If you’re getting 2020 Newton, then probably not. Because if you bring him in, now you’ve got to devote resources to getting him ready to play. Doing that with a quarterback in the middle of a season can come at a heavy cost. And if the payoff is what we saw during Newton’s lone season as a Patriot, I’d say it’s probably not worth it, especially when Russell Wilson’s not that far away from coming back.

On the flip side, I would say it’s plausible to think he could be markedly better now than he was then. Going into New England, he had no spring, had to split reps during training camp, and then was playing in an offense that was being reconstructed to fit him on the fly. He did the best he could. Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels did, too. Making things more difficult was that Newton had played in just two games from Dec. 17, 2018, to Sept. 13, 2020, with major shoulder and foot surgeries in between.

There were signs he was going to be better this year. As a passer, in preseason games, he looked more comfortable moving in the pocket, and more fluid throwing the ball. He was up and down still, for sure, but this was all without the Patriots’ incorporating the QB run game, which would’ve opened things up in the passing game.

How willing would he be as a runner? I don’t know, and I think that’d be key, because if he’s not willing, that fundamentally changes how he’s defended. I think we’d all have to watch the sorts of hits he’d take too, because some scouts have noticed signs of what happens to old running backs was starting to happen to him—where losing a step, or some elusiveness, leads to a guy getting hit, rather than just tackled—and that would likely test his durability further.

But I do want to see it. I hope we get to. To me, he really did change pro football, in helping to usher in an era where more and more concepts are flowing up from the college game, and opening the door for teams to open their minds in evaluating the quarterback position. Plus, I’m just curious to see what’s left in the tank.

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From 1-5 (@F_LuJags): What do you think of Trevor Lawrence’s play so far?

1-5, I think Trent Dilfer—who’s known Lawrence since he was a high schooler—explained it best, on our video show, the Hurry Up, earlier in the season. Dilfer said that, as he saw it, the Jags were taking a Peyton Manning–style, drink-from-a-fire-hose approach, and just letting him play through his successes and failures to accelerate his development. You’ll remember Manning threw a rookie-record 28 interceptions in 1998. In his second year, as a result of all that learning, he made the Pro Bowl and the Colts went from 3–13 to 13–3.

I can’t say the Jaguars are going to make that kind of jump in 2022. But I think you’re already seeing the merits of Lawrence’s learning on the fly. You can see it in the snapshot of his game logs—his passer rating was under 75 in each of his first three starts and over 90 in his last three. You can also see it in how he handled the late-game situation against the Dolphins, getting the Jags into field-goal range to win it.

And when I talked to Urban Meyer postgame after both coach and quarterback got NFL win No. 1, the confidence Meyer had in Lawrence’s growth was obvious.

“Yeah, there’s going to be many more wins for that guy, if you just watch his maturation and his grasp of the offense,” Meyer told me. “And you have to credit Bev [offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell] and Schotty [pass-game coordinator Brian Schottenheimer]. That’s why I hired them. They’ve done that with Russell Wilson, and they’ve done that with Andrew Luck, and they’ve done this with our guy that’s a college quarterback becoming a pro quarterback right before our eyes.

“And [Lawrence] is … he’s just one of those guys, you can’t wait to see him every day.”

I’ll just say this: Of the five rookie quarterbacks, I have the least concern about Lawrence.

From J. Mills (@JamesKMillsIII): Are the Texans’ issues more roster construction or coaching?

J., I think it’s just the state of the roster in general right now. They’re largely devoid of young building blocks. Laremy Tunsil is clearly one. Fellow linemen Max Scharping and Tytus Howard could be two more. Justin Reid and Zach Cunningham are solid on defense. And all of those guys are 27 or younger. Davis Mills has shown some promise at quarterback. Outside of that, though, you have jury’s-out rookies and some old reliable vets who have helped the new coaching staff try and build culture.

For those reasons, I think it’s a fool’s errand to judge this year’s team on wins and losses.

Nick Caserio deserves time to build the roster, and David Culley should get the time to bring young guys along. And I think a fair thing to look at as we get to November and December is how guys like Mills, Nico Collins, Roy Lopez and Garret Wallow are coming along, because that’ll give us a little window into talent evaluation and development, which ultimately will determine where Caserio and Culley take the Texans.

Bottom line, this was always going to be a year of transition, and the way the Deshaun Watson situation has unfolded has made it a strange one. What happens with Watson, what the Texans get for him and what they do with the return, of course, will be huge parts of how the next five years or so (at least) play out in Houston. But what happens this year is relevant, too. Even if the win/loss record is less so.

From Jay (@RedskinsCult): What is the early talk from scouts/GMs on this year’s QB class?