Despite all the smokescreens, health concerns and conflicting reports on quarterback preferences, the Miami Dolphins loved Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa and sought him for months. Thursday night, once it became clear that landing Joe Burrow wasn’t a feasible option, the Dolphins zeroed in on Tagovailoa and landed the man that they hope will be their franchise quarterback with the No.5 pick in the 2020 NFL draft.
Dolphins general manager Chris Grier and coach Brian Flores were “lockstep” in their plan the latter said, but only a small group of people truly knew their intentions. They watched Tagovailoa for the last couple of years, finally got to know him at the combine and the final step was getting their doctors to feel comfortable with his medicals.
“He fit a lot of the criteria that we talk about at the quarterback position. Good player, good person, leadership qualities,” Flores said. “We’re very happy with this pick. We felt very comfortable that he would be a good fit here.”
Miami kept its true plans close to the vest in hopes of preventing teams from trading ahead of them to get Tagovailoa. Ultimately, they resisted trading up, waited it out and landed him.
The Dolphins never made an offer to the Detroit Lions for the No. 3 pick in the draft, a source told ESPN. They believed Tagovailoa would be available for them at No. 5.
“Chris and I were on the same page the entire time as far as process, meetings, medicals and conversations about moving up and down,” Flores said.
Grier did confirm that the Dolphins made an offer to the Cincinnati Bengals to acquire the No. 1 overall pick to select Burrow. The overture was unsuccessful as the Bengals had decided to take the LSU Heisman Trophy winner themselves.
“We gave them a call to see if they were interested,” Grier said. “So yes, we reached out.”
But even with that attempt, the love for Tagovailoa was clear. Dolphins owner Stephen Ross attended multiple Alabama games during the 2019 season with Grier, and team president/CEO Tom Garfinkel joined them for the Crimson Tide’s contest against Michigan — a game that Tagovailoa didn’t play in.
“It was a dream come true,” Tagovailoa said in his post-draft session with reporters while noting that he wasn’t nervous about being picked. “The biggest thing is whoever decided to take a chance on us, whoever decided to pick us, that’s where we belong.”
Miami also was Tagovailoa’s preferred destination from the moment he declared for the NFL draft, according to sources close to the quarterback, who said he’s ecstatic to land with the Dolphins.
After months of debate about whether the team should take Tagovailoa or Oregon’s Justin Herbert, the Dolphins did their homework on both, liked both as players but ultimately decided it was clear that Tagovailoa was the “guy for us,” Grier said.
Tua Tagovailoa shares what he learned about the Dolphins during the draft process and his expectation to play this season.
Grier and Flores desired a quarterback who exuded leadership, charisma, the “it factor,” accuracy and playmaking ability. Tagovailoa, the left-handed signal caller who became a favorite at Alabama and likely will do the same in Miami, fit that criteria.
“I’m just trying to prove that this was the right decision for the organization,” Tagovailoa said after thanking Grier, Flores, owner Stephen Ross and the Dolphins organization.
Tagovailoa was the most efficient quarterback in college football history with a 199.4 career passer efficiency. He has the best career touchdown-interception ratio (7.91, 87 TDs to 11 INTs) in FBS history with a minimum of 70 passing touchdowns. He has the best QBR (93.5) and yards per attempt (10.88) of any quarterback since at least 2004.
The “Tank for Tua” campaign became popular throughout the 2019 season, and even though the Dolphins ultimately didn’t tank — winning five of their last nine games for a 5-11 finish — they still ended up with their guy.
Tagovailoa’s biggest question mark is health. He had several injuries at Alabama, including a fractured left index finger, a right knee sprain and bilateral ankle injuries. But none was bigger than a hip dislocation and wall fracture that ended his 2019 season in November and required surgery. The situation was complicated when the NFL shut down team facilities and prevented organizations, including the Dolphins, from bringing in Tagovailoa for medical evaluations and in-person workouts due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Tagovailoa told ESPN this month that he is 100 percent healthy following the November surgery to repair his right posterior wall fracture and dislocated hip. The two orthopedic surgeons directly involved in his surgery and recovery also told ESPN’s Stephania Bell that he will be fully healthy to participate in football activity when NFL training camps open.
The Dolphins were comfortable in what they found. “Football is a violent game,” Grier said. Guys are going to get hurt. For us, we did a lot of work on him like we do on every player.”
Tagovailoa said Thursday he hasn’t discussed with the Dolphins whether he will start in Year 1 but he’s confident that he can play in 2020 “if need be” based on what doctors told him. Flores said that it’s “way too early to speculate on this year” because they haven’t gotten a chance to work with him yet.
Thomas Byrd, a hip specialist in Nashville who was an independent evaluator for Tagovailoa’s medical recheck, told ESPN that his X-rays looked “pristine,” that a CT scan of his right hip joint space mirrors the left, and that the player “looks as good as [he has] ever seen five months out” after similar injuries. The Dolphins were the team that assigned the doctor for Tagovailoa’s medical recheck, according to ESPN’s Chris Mortensen, and that shows why they felt so comfortable with the results.
Ultimately, it’s still a calculated risk. But Miami felt good enough about the Tagovailoa package to take a chance on the talented quarterback.
It has been 20 years since Dan Marino, the Dolphins’ last true franchise quarterback, retired. It has been 24 seasons since the Dolphins last had a Pro Bowl quarterback. They hope that, with Tagovailoa, all of that will change.
However, the Dolphins may not expect Tagovailoa to jump into those expectations quite yet.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, 37, likely will be the favorite to begin the season as the starting quarterback due to his familiarity with the team and offensive coordinator Chan Gailey. But the veteran has welcomed the idea of mentoring a rookie QB. Tagovailoa should have a smooth transition learning under Fitzpatrick.
Dolphins fans can rejoice because they now have their quarterback — one that many of them wanted for more than a year — and now the job turns toward protecting him.
Since Marino retired after the 1999 season, the Dolphins have started 21 different QBs. That’s tied with the Redskins for the third-most since 2000, behind only the Browns (29) and Bears (23) over that span. Tagovailoa is the Dolphins’ highest-drafted quarterback since Hall of Famer Bob Griese in 1967. He’s also the first left-handed quarterback to be drafted since Tim Tebow and Sean Canfield in 2010.