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After No Deshaun Watson Trade, Texans Face Tua Tagovailoa

Tua Tagovailoa remains a Dolphin in Sunday's matchup against the Texans

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – How awkward a situation, and sight for the Miami Dolphins and quarterback Tua Tagovailoa as he faces the Texans, the team that tried to trade embattled Pro Bowl quarterback Deshaun Watson to potentially replace him.

Instead of Watson joining the Dolphins in advance of Sunday’s game, no trade was ultimately worked out as the NFL trade deadline expired Tuesday afternoon. With 22 civil lawsuits alleging sexual misconduct and 10 active criminal complaints and investigations with no charges filed, Dolphins owner Stephen Ross was given pause along with appropriately high demands of draft capital from Texans general manager Nick Caserio that included three first-round draft picks and two second-round selections and possibly more in exchange for the three-time Pro Bowl passer.

Now, Tagovailoa, a former Alabama star and first-round draft pick wasn’t coveted enough by NFL franchises, including the Texans, as a potential trade candidate should the Watson deal have been executed, gets an opportunity to prove himself to the AFC East franchise that was poised to move on from him in just his second NFL season. Tagovailoa has the next nine games as an audition to prove the Dolphins should keep him in place as their starter and not, as expected, revisit trade talks with the Texans about Watson before the start of the league year on March 16 when he can officially be traded. Tagovailoa can also showcase his skills to other NFL teams if the Texans and Dolphins pick up trade talks again.

Tagovailoa, who’s 7-7 as a starter, leads the 1-7 Dolphins on Sunday against Tyrod Taylor and the 1-7 Texans with both teams trying to snap seven-game losing streaks.

A former fifth overall pick who excelled for the Crimson Tide while battling injuries, Tagovailoa has displayed upside and flashes. He has to become a more consistent, explosive and durable quarterback, though. He was listed as questionable for this game in part because of an injured finger on his throwing hand.

Tagovailoa has an 85.9 passer rating this season after posting an 87.1 rating as a rookie last year.

“Everyone develops at a different pace, I see him getting better really on a weekly basis,” Dolphins coach Brian Flores said. “I think there’s still some things that he needs to improve on, like all of us. We have more time. He does everything he needs to do to get better, improve and I think he’ll continue to improve.”

Tagovailoa is an accurate passer with good mobility and pocket awareness. He is basically a game manager, though, as he operates a passing game built around shorter throws. He has seven touchdown passes and five interceptions and 1,040 passing yards.

He is averaging just 6.6 yards per attempt, ranking 26th among NFL starters. And the Dolphins are averaging just 17.3 points per game to rank 28th in the NFL in scoring offense.

“I think he’s a talented kid,” Texans safety Justin Reid said. “I feel bad for him that he’s struggled with so many injuries. I think all of us have seen the leg thing that happened with him, so that’s unfortunate for him. As far as a quarterback talent, I think he has an accurate arm. I still think he’s trying to find his groove into the NFL, so they’re taking care of him with the short passes, RPOs, that type of thing.

”He is a lefty. He’s one of the few lefties in the league, so that’s a little bit different as far as quick game goes, with tendencies and which direction he likes to go to, but he’s a solid guy. He’s talented. He was a first-round pick for a reason, so he’s still just trying to find his wings and become their guy.”

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Tagovailoa acknowledged to Miami reporters that he needs to maintain his resiliency and faith in himself and his teammates and coaches as he continues to work at his craft.

“I’m not much of a patient guy, I kind of want things to happen quick,” Tagovailoa said, “The saying is nothing happens overnight and Rome wasn’t built in a day. For me, I’ve just got to continue to trust the process and what we’re trying to get done here. Hopefully, we’ll start winning some games, starting with this week.”

Of course, Tagovailoa was asked about Ross being granted permission to speak with Watson the night before the NFL trade deadline. That’s the same owner who signed off on not drafting Justin Herbert, a huge mistake, and instead, selected the former Crimson Tide star. Tagovailoa said that he wasn’t aware of the 11th-hour maneuvering involving Watson.

He was also asked if he’s relieved now that the NFL trade deadline has passed.

“Not necessarily,” Tagovailoa said. The first thing, we want to get a win. We’ll start with that this week. Try to get a win and obviously build off of that.”

Flores emphasized that it’s on Tagovailoa to remain stoic and focus on the task at hand and not dwell on any distractions, including the trade deadline drama that just unfolded.

"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.'"

With a straight face and his nose not visibly growing, Dolphins general manager Chris Grier, who personally conducted trade discussions with the Texans about Watson, stressed that Miami is pleased with Tua.

“We're very happy with Tua," Grier said. "We think he's developing well. (Flores) has been very consistent with his message, and we have been as well. He's working hard, he's showing a lot of improvement, and we think he'll continue to develop and be the player he should be." 

Texans defensive end Jacob Martin underscored the conversation surrounding Tagovailoa with an upbeat tone.

“He’s a young player, he’s an exciting player to watch,” Martin said. “I watched him in college, I’ve watched him since he’s been in the NFL. I know he’s had a lot of questions about his future going forward there in Miami. I’d like to think that he is playing his best football. Obviously, he’s a young guy, a young quarterback.

“How I think of it, it's being made into a bigger situation than what it really was, at least in my mind. I’d like to think that focusing on doing your own job, people are going to say, what they are going to say and compete at the highest level. He’s rising to the challenge. I’m not sure what they are telling him in his building or anything like that, but just continue to ball.”