April 18, 2024

Tua Tagovailoa has put up enormous numbers over the last two seasons, but is it enough?

The Miami Dolphins are facing a big Tua issue.

Tua Tagovailoa has been the Miami Dolphins’ most prolific passer in the last two seasons, dating back to Dan Marino’s retirement from the Hall of Fame in March 2000.

Tua dominated the NFL in passer rating in 2022, then led the league in passing yards in 2023, playing every snap (excluding mop-up time), and being chosen the AFC’s starting Pro Bowl quarterback.

These are the statistics that Tua’s fans, including Tuanon, will use to argue that the Dolphins should sign him to a long-term agreement this offseason.

However, it states that the Dolphins should continue to keep their quarterback choices open.

There is no further action required.

Good but not good enough.

Tua has the numbers to back him up, beginning with the league-leading 4,624 passing yards during the 2023 regular season and the NFL-best 105.5 passer rating in 2022, but where has it led the Dolphins?

Yes, they made the playoffs the previous two seasons and finished with a winning record for the fourth time in Tua’s four seasons in the NFL.

However, the franchise’s playoff drought continues, and unless you haven’t been watching the NFL recently, you’re aware that it is currently the longest active stretch in the league.

Here’s the greater issue: What happened over the last two seasons should give the Dolphins or their supporters a lot of confidence going ahead that they’re ready to be true Super Bowl contenders, rather than just a club good enough to make the playoffs but not much more — be the Dallas Cowboys.

The evidence is fairly convincing.

Over the last two seasons, the Dolphins have gone 3-12 against playoff opponents, including two playoff losses.

Since victories over Baltimore and Buffalo in Weeks 2 and 3 of the 2022 season, the record is 1-12, with the lone victory coming against the aforementioned Cowboys on Christmas Eve at Hard Rock Stadium.

The Dolphins went 1-6 against playoff opponents in 2023. The Dolphins were outscored 224-113 in six games, with an average score of 32-19.

To put it simply, the Dolphins were unable to compete with the big boys.

Of course, we’ll remind out that it’s a team game, and Tua’s losses aren’t entirely his fault.

However, Tua’s 32-19 career record as a starter, as well as his statistical success the past two seasons under head coach Mike McDaniel, must be examined within the context of the entire squad.

 

49ers player throws shade at Dolphins' Tua Tagovailoa during playoff loss |  Fox News

 

Some troubling statistics

Looking deeper into Tua’s metrics, it becomes clear that touchdowns and completions are not everything.

The first thing that stands out is how Tua’s 2023 numbers vary so greatly depending on the level of the competition.

Tua dominated non-playoff teams with a 71.7 completion %, 22 touchdowns, eight interceptions, and a 110.7 passer rating.

Against the seven playoff opponents, the figures shift to a 62.8 completion percentage, eight touchdowns, seven interceptions, and an 80.2 quarterback rating.

Then there’s coming through in the crunch.

The Dolphins fought six fourth-quarter comebacks and won only two of them: the opener against the Chargers and the Dallas victory.

However, they failed against the Eagles, the Chiefs in the regular season, Tennessee on Monday night, and Buffalo in the AFC East title game in Week 18.

Tua had a 67.8 passer rating in 2023 with the Dolphins behind and less than four minutes left, which was worse than his career average of 68.0 in that category.

Tua falls far short — far short — of the AFC’s upper-echelon quarterbacks, whom the Dolphins must defeat in order to reach the Super Bowl.

Several examples: Lamar Jackson has a career passer rating of 118.2 with his team behind by less than four minutes. Joe Burrow is at 107.4. Josh Allen is at 98.8. Patrick Mahomes is at 88.8. C.J. Stroud averaged 107.9 in his debut season in 2023.

THE BIGGEST QUESTION WITH TUA

What is Tua’s ceiling? Has he made it yet?

And, if he has, should the Dolphins be satisfied with that or look for more, now or later?

And this isn’t about replacing Tua just to replace Tua; it’s about determining how far this club can go as it stands right now.

When GM Chris Grier remarked this week about Tua, “the goal is to have him here long term, playing at a high level,” that was wonderful and dandy. But how do the Dolphins define a high level?

Did Tua play well in 2023? The fact that he was in the MVP debate for much of the season suggests he was. However, he did not perform well against top-tier opponents, which is undeniable.

And the Dolphins’ moves in recent offseasons clearly indicate that they are looking for great, rather than excellent; otherwise, why would they give up draft capital and spend large money on players like Tyreek Hill, Terron Armstead, and Jalen Ramsey, to mention a few?

TUA WOULD NOT BE THE FIRST

Before everyone begins shouting about how not signing Tua to a long-term contract is blasphemous, there is precedent.

Consider this former quarterback who had a 35-17 record (.673 winning percentage) with his team before deciding he wasn’t good enough and trading a second-round choice for another quarterback.

Jay Fiedler was the quarterback for the Dolphins, and his record was 35-17.

If the argument is that Fiedler never put up good passing numbers, please offer more current examples.

And this is where Alex Smith, Jimmy Garoppolo, and Jared Goff come in.

Smith’s first four seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs resulted in a 41-20 record (.672) and two Pro Bowl appearances. That did not prevent the Chiefs from drafting Mahomes in 2017.

Garoppolo was even more successful in San Francisco, with a.691 winning % and two seasons with a passer rating more than 100, until the 49ers chose to move on.

The bottom line

So, what should we do for the Dolphins?

There are three alternatives on the table: sign Tua to an extension, let him play on his fifth-year option, or trade him if they can find a taker and someone to take over the offense.

The decision should come down to how the Dolphins see Tua and whether they can win big with him, whether he can take another step forward, or if the last two seasons were the best they could get.

However, the Dolphins have the luxury of delaying that move until more data is gathered and Tua has another year to demonstrate his ability to go to the next level, according to his fifth-year option.

The Dolphins took this approach with Christian Wilkins this season after failing to reach an agreement on a long-term contract, so why not do it again?

One argument for extending Tua is to lower his salary number of $23 million in 2024 — and the Dolphins will need to make room — but getting the quarterback position right in the long run is more vital.

In reality, nothing is more crucial.

The Dolphins must get it right, and that includes being able to compete with the big boys rather than simply making the playoffs, as they are right now with Tua at quarterback.

Can he move them beyond that level? We simply do not know the answer to that.

That is why the Dolphins should keep their quarterback choices open.

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