Tua Tagovailoa Answers Important Questions About Being Elite, So What’s Missing?

Tua Tagovailoa has undoubtedly answered some of his doubters on some key issues so far this season. Let’s agree on that.

The doubters said he couldn’t play at an elite level at any time, much less playing from behind when his team needed it most and the defense knew what was coming. Well, he threw 6 TD passes in a game two weeks ago. And 4 of those touchdowns came in the fourth quarter when the Dolphins were seemingly out of a ballgame they eventually won.

Doubters said he couldn’t throw the deep ball effectively. But so far this season he’s completed passes of 60 yards for a touchdown, 42 yards for a touchdown, 59 yards and last week on a third-and-22 situation he completed a 45 yard bomb.

So Tagovailoa is taking significant steps up the elite quarterback ladder.

What’s Missing Before Tua Considered Elite?

But there’s still a couple more rungs he must climb before everyone, including me by the way, is convinced he’s elite.

This will convince everyone: He’s got to do it consistently, which is not possible to see yet because only years can deliver that. And he’s got to prove he’s durable, which so far has been a challenge.

Durability is important because quarterbacks who don’t play every week do something far worse than fail to help their team. They actually hurt their teams.

That’s because, quarterback talent being such a rare commodity, practically no team has two quarterbacks who can consistently win games for them. So when the one guy who can do that is out, the drop off is typically so significant it leads to losses.

Teams value durability from their quarterbacks more than any other position. And that’s been a question with Tagovailoa in his three NFL seasons. That continues this week, since he’s dealing with a back issue.

Status For Thursday Night At Cincinnati

The Dolphins, you see, say Tagovailoa is questionable for Thursday night’s game at Cincinnati. Multiple team sources told OutKick this week they expect Tagovailoa to play barring a late change in circumstances.

MIAMI GARDENS, FL – September 11: Miami Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel walks the sidelines during the game between the New England Patriots and the Miami Dolphins, on Sunday, September 11, 2022 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, FL (Photo by Peter Joneleit/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

But absolute certainty he’ll play? No one wanted to go that far yet. Not even coach Mike McDaniel.

 “As far as walkthroughs and stuff and just in general, this much I know about Tua: Him and I’s relationship is strong,” McDaniel said Tuesday. “He actually called me at like, 10:50 [Monday] night. And I’m like, ‘Dude, is everything okay?’ [Tua said] ‘No, I’m just checking in on you.’

“I’m like, ‘Alright, that’s fun.’ And just him talking to me, I can tell in his voice, he’s literally going to do everything he can and is in his power, so I know that he’s going to do everything you can to play. So I’ll know that if he doesn’t play that it literally was not possible and we’re just taking measures accordingly for Teddy [Bridgewater] beyond that.

“But I’m happy with the way he’s so far progressed and feel very optimistic because of how he’s going about it.”

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND – SEPTEMBER 18: Tua Tagovailoa #1 of the Miami Dolphins throws a pass in the first quarter against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on September 18, 2022 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Tua And The Dolphins Are The AFC’s Only Undefeated Team

Tagovailoa’s back, along with his legs, is where he gets his torque to throw the football. With his back not quite right, there is concern about the velocity on his throws — not to mention the guy’s in pain.

The back, in other words, affects a good deal of Tagovailoa’s game.

“I would say everything,” he said. “Having to twist, to hand the ball off, having to toss the ball, having to throw the ball. Every aspect of it.”

And, again, the Dolphins are hoping Tagovailoa can play despite this being a short week before Thursday night’s game at Cincinnati. But the fact is Tagovailoa has something of an injury history so far.

The Tua Durability Question

Remember that Tua missed a start in 2020 after he injured his thumb in practice the week before Miami played the Jets. Last season he missed three starts because he suffered cracked ribs in an early-season game against Buffalo. And in November he broke the middle finger on his left (throwing) hand. That injury caused him to miss a Week 9 start.

In less than three seasons, Tagovailoa has missed five starts because of injury.

And, yes, his durability was a pre-draft concern coming out of the University of Alabama. So the doubters are still doubting on this front.

The template for being a franchise quarterback, meanwhile, includes not just offering availability but ironman availability.

Great QBs Are Very Durable

Consider:

Matt Ryan missed a start in 2009 because of a shoulder injury and didn’t miss another game until 2019 when he missed one game with an ankle injury.

Tom Brady has played 23 seasons and started 319 games. He has not missed a start since the 2008 season when he tore his ACL.

That doesn’t mean Brady hasn’t played injured. Brady played most of the 2010 season with a stress fracture in one of his feet. He rolled his ankle during a practice in 2014 but didn’t miss any games. He played despite a lacerated throwing hand during the 2018 playoffs and still got his team to the Super Bowl.

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA – SEPTEMBER 18: Tom Brady #12 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers throws the ball in the second quarter of the game against the New Orleans Saints at Caesars Superdome on September 18, 2022 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Elite Quarterbacks Have Been More Durable

Aaron Rodgers, 39 in December, hasn’t been quite as unbreakable as Brady, but his durability is not in question. The last time he missed a start was 2017 when he broke his clavicle and missed seven games. He’s played with calf strains, an MCL tear, and even a fractured toe last season on his way to an MVP award.

Patrick Mahomes is undoubtedly durable as he hasn’t missed a start because of an injury since 2019 when he dislocated a knee cap on a quarterback sneak against Denver in mid-October. The guy returned to practice one week later and, despite missing a couple of games, took the Chiefs to a Super Bowl victory over San Francisco.

Josh Allen plays the quarterback position as if he was a running back. And although that makes some people cringe, he hasn’t missed a game since his rookie season in 2018.

Justin Herbert came into the NFL in the same draft with Tagovailoa and was thrust into the starting lineup in his second career game when starter Tyrod Taylor had a pregame injection go wrong. Herbert has not missed a start. This despite Herbert playing last week with fractured rib cartilage that will stay with him the next month or so.

Russell Wilson, like Tagovailoa, is a smallish quarterback. But he’s been very durable. In the 2016 season opener he suffered a Grade 3 ankle sprain and played the following week. Two weeks later he suffered a Grade 2 MCL sprain and just kept playing. He didn’t miss a game that season.

Wilson has only missed two games in 11 seasons, that happening last year when he broke the middle finger of his throwing hand. He had surgery and was supposed to miss four to six weeks but was back within two.

The point is, great quarterbacks cannot be great unless they play at a high level game after game, year after year. Regardless of injuries.

That’s what the Miami Dolphins are needing from Tua Tagovailoa now.

Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero

Written by Armando Salguero

One Comment

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  1. That was the #1 question I had about Tua. All of the other questions have been answered. If healthy Tua can be a great Quarterback as he has shown in the first three games.
    He is first in QBR and 2nd in Passer Rating and 3rd in TD thrown in the whole NFL.
    But the question of whether he can stay healthy for even a full season remains and is an important one.

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