ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — A three-point playoff loss on the road to the Buffalo Bills here Sunday raised the obvious question for the Miami Dolphins: Would they be headed to Kansas City instead of Cancun next week if Tua Tagovailoa was healthy and available?
The Dolphins hope to have the chance to prove that counterfactual in 12 months — with Tagovailoa as their quarterback.
Following the Dolphins’ 34-31 loss to Buffalo, Miami coach Mike McDaniel confirmed an ESPN report that stated that the twice (at least)-concussed Tagovailoa plans to resume his career in 2023 — and the Dolphins plan to have him as their QB1.
Miami Dolphins’ Plans for Tua Tagovailoa
“First and foremost, you know, with Tua, it’s worry about [his recovery] on a day-to-day basis,” McDaniel said. “‘How’s he doing today?’ And just worry about his health. Now, with that being said, yeah, of course. You guys know how I feel about Tua. That hasn’t changed at all. I think we all see him as the leader of this team.
“When it’s appropriate for him to lead the team, I’ll jump on that opportunity,” McDaniel added. “He’s a great player with only improvement in front of him as well. We’re talking about a 24-year-old quarterback that I think when I signed up for this job, I spent six months trying to convince people that he was good.
“The fact that Las Vegas saw it as a four-point swing when I announced that he was [not playing], that means — yes, this is a challenging time for him. Yes, his health is of primary importance. But I would be a fool to not embrace him when he’s healthy and ready to go. We’ll all be excited for that.”
Tagovailoa finished his third NFL season as the NFL’s leader in passer rating (105.5). Eight of the Dolphins’ nine wins came with him as their starter.
And with all due respect to Skylar Thompson — whose stat line (18 of 45, 220 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions) was impacted by a bunch of costly drops — Tagovailoa not playing Sunday was a major reason why the Dolphins did not win.
He completed 30 of 48 passes for 420 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions in Miami’s two regular-season games against the Bills.
McDaniel did not go into any additional detail about the Dolphins’ thinking behind rolling with Tua in 2023 rather than pursuing a list of available veterans that is expected to include Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo, and Derek Carr.
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But it’s fair to assume that they either do not have concerns about his long-term availability due to his recurring head trauma, or that those concerns are not high enough to part ways with an ascending talent who, in 2022, became a very productive player.
Tagovailoa is technically entering the final year of his NFL contract, but the Dolphins will control his rights through 2024 if they pick up his fifth-year option, a fully-guaranteed salary estimated to be in the neighborhood of $22 million. The deadline for picking up that option isn’t until May, and the Dolphins should have more clarity on Tagovailoa’s long-term health in four months.
The Dolphins could also offer Tagovailoa a long-term extension beginning March 15, but given his injury history, it might be prudent to wait to do that.