The perils of signing Tua Tagovailoa to a long term deal

Tua Tagovailoa Miami Dolphins Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports
Tua Tagovailoa Miami Dolphins Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports /

Let me start this story by saying that I am a Tua Tagovailoa fan. I have watched the games and it’s clear that the Dolphins are a much better team when a healthy, clear-thinking Tua is behind center. As we saw when he played last year, the Dolphins tend to win and when he doesn’t play they tend to lose.

But even as a Tua fan, I have to admit that the concept of signing Tua to a long-term deal is scary. I think of the Denver Broncos and the reality that it will be very difficult for them to compete over the next few seasons because of the huge contract that they signed with Russel Wilson. It’s not so much that the contract is the problem as much as Russel’s poor performance is the problem.

The Broncos bet on Wilson’s past successes and ignored that those successes were built on the legs and arms of an exceptional scrambling athlete. It was clear during the 2021 season, Wilson’s last with the Seattle Seahawks, that he had lost a step and could no longer make plays with his legs.

During that 2021 season, it became clear that Wilson lacked pocket presence and would struggle in the role of a pocket passer. Nonetheless, the Broncos chose to give the Seahawks a king’s ransom for Wilson and signed him to a 6-year $279 million contract extension (per Over the Cap).

Because of the trade and subsequent extension, the Broncos have put themselves in the unenviable position of having their wagon hitched to a man who can no longer do what made him so successful. The Broncos are hoping that Sean Payton can somehow build a championship team with Wilson at the helm. As much as I respect Sean Payton he is being tasked to do the impossible.

The parallel between Tua and Wilson is that the Dolphins are considering offering Tua a contract extension. While I doubt the Dolphins would be offering him the staggering contract that Wilson received, a long-term contract with Tua is a frightening proposition. This is a player that appears to be one hit or bad fall away from having his career ended, or worse. How do you sign Tagovailoa to a long-term deal with the concussion cloud hanging over him?

Miami Dolphins
Miami Dolphins Tua Tagovailoa Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports /

Just as Wilson’s contract is a monumentally bad contract for a franchise, so too would a long-term deal for Tua be a disaster for the Dolphins. In Wilson’s case, the Broncos can cling to the hope that Wilson will somehow turn it around and become the next Aaron Rogers or Tom Brady. But if the Dolphins sign Tua to a long-term deal, they will be putting themselves in the same long-term, financially untenable position in which the Broncos now find themselves trapped. What hope will the Dolphins cling to? The injury history is clear and evident. The concussion risk will be there even if Tua somehow manages to play in 17 games next season.

Just as Wilson no longer possesses the one skill that he sorely needs to be successful at this point in his career, pocket presence, Tua appears to lack the one skill that he needs to be successful. That skill is the most important skill of all: Availability.

The most frightening thing about Tua’s injury history is clearly the concussions. If it were just the hip, ankle, and other injuries that Tua has sustained, you could justify taking a gamble on his health. But with concussions, you just can’t take the chance.

So what should the Dolphins do with him if they shouldn’t sign Tua to a long-term deal? There has been lots of discussions this week about trading Tua and acquiring various other quarterbacks. The problem with this scenario is that what NFL team will take a chance on Tua given his very public concussion issues?

Unfortunately, most NFL teams are a little more diligent than the Broncos were so it’s not likely that the Dolphins will be able to trade Tua. Perhaps on an expiring contract the Dolphins could get a taker. But the compensation will be light and more than likely the “salary cap-strapped” Dolphins would have to eat a significant portion of Tua’s salary.

From my perspective, the only real option for the Dolphins should they choose to retain him is to sign Tua to an extension with little guaranteed money. Perhaps a contract that rolls to the next year if Tua meets certain availability criteria each year. While that isn’t something that Tua is likely to be comfortable with, what choice does he have? Every team in the league is going to remember that scary Thursday night in Cincinnati.

Tua is ultimately going to be faced with the options of a series of 1-year contracts from teams hoping that he isn’t Carson Wentz 2.0 or signing a long-term non-guaranteed contract. The Dolphins can at least mitigate the long-term risk by having a contract with annual outs for them.

While a non-guaranteed long-term contract solves part of the problem, it does not solve what the Dolphins would do if (when) the next Tua injury comes and they have a roster ready to win but their starting QB is done for the year. This is where the Dolphins must somehow find a great backup to either sign or develop.

Sep 21, 1986; E. Rutherford, NJ, USA; FILE PHOTO; Miami Dolphins head coach Don Shula on the sidelines with #13 DAN MARINO and DON STROCK and #22 TONY NATHAN during their game against the New York Jets at Giants Stadium. The Jets defeated the Dolphins 51-45 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Photo By USA TODAY Sports (c) Copyright USA TODAY Sports
Sep 21, 1986; E. Rutherford, NJ, USA; FILE PHOTO; Miami Dolphins head coach Don Shula on the sidelines with #13 DAN MARINO and DON STROCK and #22 TONY NATHAN during their game against the New York Jets at Giants Stadium. The Jets defeated the Dolphins 51-45 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Photo By USA TODAY Sports (c) Copyright USA TODAY Sports /

As Robert Plant sang in Led Zeppelin’s classic “Stairway to Heaven” “there are two paths you can go by”. The first is the quality backup QB who comes in and leads the team without missing a beat. Think the 1981 Dolphins and “Woodstrock”. Whenever David Woodley struggled there was Don Strock to bail out the team. It got them to the Super bowl.

The other road is to draft and develop a QB. The best example of this that I can think of is the 2012 Washington Football team. With the number 2 pick in the draft, the Redskins drafted the dynamic Robert Griffin III (RG3). Griffin threw for 3,200 yards that season to go along with 20 TDs versus only 5 interceptions.

Griffin led Washington to a 9 and 6 record in the games in which he played (all stats are from Pro Football Reference). Unfortunately for Griffin and Washington, RG3 was unable to stay healthy for the rest of his short career. From 2014 through 2020, he would only appear in 28 games.

7 round Dolphins mock draft. dark. Next

Also in 2012, the Redskins used their 4th Round Draft pick (number 102 overall) to draft Kirk Cousins to be their backup QB. During his rookie season, Cousins played in 3 games and had only 1 start. However, with RG3’s inability to stay healthy, Cousins had the opportunity to show what he could do. Eventually, Cousins took over as the starting QB in Washington.

In 2018, Cousins left Washington for Minnesota. Since taking over as the full-time starter in Washington in 2015, Cousins has started and played in every possible game except 1 in 2015. Since he became a full-time starter, Cousins has had 70 wins and 56 losses.

Clearly, Washington had a great idea in drafting and developing Cousins despite the presence of the more ‘high profile” Griffin. My hope is that somehow Skylar Thompson can become the next Kirk Cousins. But should that not happen, let’s hope they find today’s, Don Strock.