When the Nov. 2 trade deadline came and went, it assured Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa that the team was his for the final two months of the NFL season.
The expiration on that insurance comes in one game.
After the conclusion of the Dolphins’ season finale and 4:25 p.m. kickoff against the New England Patriots on Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium, the offseason begins for Miami. At the forefront of decisions the franchise will have to make, will it commit to sticking with Tagovailoa heading into Year 3 for the Saint Louis/Alabama product or will the Dolphins (8-8) reinsert themselves into trade conversations for Houston Texans’ Deshaun Watson or the pursuit of another upper-echelon quarterback?
Tagovailoa is not allowing that possibility to occupy his mind as he heads into the final start of his second NFL season.
“No, I’m not worried about that,” Tagovailoa said over web conference after Wednesday’s practice. “If it comes up, it comes up. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t.”
The comments Dolphins general manager Chris Grier made the last time he spoke, the day after the trade deadline passed, were telling of his mentality.
“If there’s a player available around the league that’s viewed as being one of the top players around the league at any position, you look at it and try and go for it,” Grier said on Nov. 3.
The last half of Tagovailoa’s season could then be viewed as an audition to determine if the franchise is comfortable allowing the No. 5 pick of the 2020 draft keep the reins.
He missed the first game that followed with a finger injury on his throwing hand, further adding to his durability concerns. Tagovailoa then entered in the second half of the Nov. 11 Thursday night win over the Baltimore Ravens and started the ensuing six ahead of Sunday’s matchup with the Patriots (10-6).
Tagovailoa completed 69.3 percent of passes in those six and a half appearances for 1,504 yards (7.2 per attempt), eight touchdowns and five interceptions, plus a rushing score. It started with a stretch of four consecutive outings with a quarterback rating above 100.0, but the past three: 75.5 against the New York Jets, 91.5 at the New Orleans Saints and an ugly 53.1 in Sunday’s sloppy loss in Nashville, 34-3, to the Tennessee Titans that eliminated the Dolphins from playoff contention.
“It didn’t go the way that I wanted it to go,” said Tagovailoa, evaluating his sophomore NFL campaign. “It didn’t go the way that our team wanted it to go. It’s tough when you have an opportunity and you don’t capitalize on that opportunity.”
Tagovailoa only completed 18-of-38 passes, was sacked four times, fumbled three times, lost one of those fumbles, threw an interception and had at least a couple of other passes that could’ve been intercepted in the loss to the Titans.
“We move on,” said Dolphins coach Brian Flores of his message to Tagovailoa this week. “We move on to the next play. We take it one play at a time, one day at a time. We make the corrections, improve and go out there and put your best foot forward. That’s the case for him and every player. That would be my message to anyone that dealt with a little adversity.”
Mishandling the football multiple times in the rain and cold at Nissan Stadium on Sunday, it left Tagovailoa motivated to work on dealing with those conditions in the offseason.
“It’s trying to be able to simulate the cold-weather scenarios and trying to throw the ball when it’s wet at the same time, you know, in cold weather,” said Tagovailoa, from Hawaii, playing college football at Alabama and now professionally in Miami. “A lot of the good teams are cold-weather teams, as well. I think that’s something to take into consideration this offseason for myself. Probably go visit my brother or take a trip somewhere that’s cold and kind of get the feel of that.”
With one game left in his second season, Tagovailoa has a slightly better quarterback rating than he did as a rookie, 89.8 to 87.1. His completion percentage improved from 64.1 to 67.8 and yards per attempt have increased from 6.3 to 7.0. With 76 more pass attempts this year, he has thrown four more touchdowns — from 11 to 15 — but five more interceptions, from five to 10.
The lack of a bigger Year 2 leap also comes amid other factors like offensive coaching changes, arguably the league’s worst pass-protecting offensive line, the lack of a consistent running game and elite, consistently healthy receiving corps and his own health/availability.