Good on Dolphins general manager Chris Grier for having some conviction. Good on him, in an era of rampant discarding of highly-drafted quarterbacks, for giving Tua Tagovailoa a strong vote of support after what was a promising enough, truncated, COVID-hampered rookie NFL season.
Grier declared on Tuesday, in a season-ending meeting with the media, that Tua is their guy for 2021. And, frankly, it's kinda ludicrous that this was a thing at all. The kid had no real offseason, rode the bench the first month of the season, was thrust into an unforeseen playoff race, lost most of the key pieces around him on that limited offense along the way, and dealt with the quick-hook and in-game yo-yoing of head coach Brian Flores.
How about we give him a full season with something akin to a true offseason before casting him aside?
"Tua, I'm very happy with," Flores said Tuesday. "He's our starting quarterback."
Tagovailoa has been a lightning rod for quite some time now, though I am not entirely sure why. The haters have always been lurking, despite a pristine college career, and when he hurt his hip last year and required surgery, eliminating the remainder of his career at Alabama, there was no shortage of people perfectly willing to discount him, if not write him off. Skeptics always abound with him, it seems, and with the shadows of Josh Rosen and Dwayne Haskins cast large these days, the concept of disposable first-round quarterbacks is a disturbing -- yet attractive to some -- trend.
Craving even more NFL coverage focusing on previews, recaps, news and analysis? Listen below and subscribe to the Pick Six podcast for a daily dose of everything you need to follow pro football.
Seems, as with many things in this culture, too many in the game and in the scouting community and in the media are caught up in it. Now, you'd best be a Patrick Mahomes or Lamar Jackson or Justin Herbert or Joe Burrow and come out of the gate either playing ridiculous football or finding ways to win every week, or else we might find someone better by Year Two. You're either one of them, or you're another potential Rosen, and who wants that on their hands?
For the season, Tua completed 186 of his 290 attempts (64%) for 1,814 yards (6.26 yards per attempt) with 11 touchdowns and five picks (three coming in a meltdown at Buffalo last week against the AFC's hottest team on a day his team gave up a 50-burger) for a rating of 87.1, whiling winning seven of the nine games in which he played. But, stick with me for a minute here ... take a gander as to which recent top-10 draft pick put together this stat line in his first 10 NFL games:
132 of 253 (52%) for 1,633 yards (6.45/attempt), 6 TDs, 9 INTs, 65.5 rating, while going 4-6.
Take a wild guess. Hint: He is playing in the AFC East and will be an MVP finalist in a few weeks. Yeah, Josh Allen, selected seventh overall in 2018. Imagine if there had been a referendum on the erratic, unorthodox rookie at that point? Just because the Dolphins have a top-three pick this year -- by virtue of fleecing Bill O'Brien for Laremy Tunsil -- doesn't alter the fact that Miami invested over a year to evaluating Tua and and every other quarterback with a detailed process that led them to use the fifth-overall pick on him just a few months ago. Forget about all that.
Chuck aside the fact that Allen didn't blossom until the cast around him -- offensive line, pass catchers -- improved significantly, and that the Dolphins could do that with the third pick, or by holding an auction for the pick -- so someone else can draft a QB this time -- and really put him in position to succeed. Never mind the natural leader and competitor this kid is, and his will to always win and get better, and let's not even consider the gains he could make getting every rep this offseason and summer.
Nope, who cares when you can chase Justin Fields or Zach Wilson, because we just saw them do some amazing things in a college game with nothing else going on. Go sell Tua for a second-round pick or whatever and give up on him before you even know what you have, and cast your lot with the next hot thing instead.
Come on, man. What's wrong with some people?
Have some conviction. Allow the young man some time to develop. He did some awesome stuff against the Chiefs a few weeks back, when Steve Spagnuolo threw every blitz possible his way. He was the rarest rookie QB to beat Bill Belichick just a few weeks back, with the weight of a long-suffering franchise on his back in a must-win spot. All of that happened. Just because he can't throw it a mile on the run like Allen or Mahomes, or run the gauntlet of defenders like a human joystick the way Jackson can, doesn't mean the kid can't play and win the kind of big games in Miami he routinely bossed for Alabama.
Especially considering he was without Mike Gesicki or DeVante Parker down the stretch -- or he was with them on the field but they were hobbled -- and with a dwindling offensive line, to boot. I'm old enough to remember when a standard barometer was after two years/32 starts. Now, damn, you'd better kick some butt in your first half-season kid, or we might fire you.
How about we wait until next January at least to decide whether or not he's washed up? Is that too much to ask?
Stefanski deserves top coach honor
Kevin Stefanski gets my nod for Coach of the Year, and it's not really all that close. He changed everything about a floundering franchise, on the fly, without an offseason and barely getting to meet his players this summer before coaching them.
He righted Baker Mayfield and instilled guard rails for a locker room badly needing them, despite having never coached an NFL game before. He installed a new offense, got a full buy-in, and a team notorious for saying the wrong thing or doing the wrong thing and amassing personal fouls and generally coming up small rolled to an 11-win season despite being compromised by COVID down the stretch.
He stood out compared to all coaches, he competed within a division in which three teams won 11 games or more (yes, he was swept by the Ravens, but the second game was an epic, down to the last play). Compare him to the rest of the new coaches in 2020, and the argument gets even stronger. Stefanski's 11-5 record is five more wins than Washington's Ron Rivera -- who has been to the Super Bowl as a longtime head coach -- and Rivera's 7-9 deserves an asterisk since he played in the NFC Least. So did Joe Judge, but he could only muster six wins (his rant about the Eagles may have played well to his base, but it's being scoffed at by a lot of others around the league). Mike McCarthy, a former Super Bowl winner, came up small at 6-10. Matt Rhule may be shifting the Panthers towards a bright future ... but he went 5-11 in the standings.
Stefanski: 11-5, .688%.
The rest of the first year coaches: 24-40, .375%.
His measured and cerebral approach and combination of new school analytics and communication skills, coupled with old-school understanding of the tried and true that works in this game (muscling up and running the ball) will serve the Browns well into the future. It's unfortunate he will not be able to coach their game this weekend, but this will be far from his last postseason appearance.
More NFL insider notes
- Would not be surprised in the least if longtime Vikings exec George Paton ends up with one of these GMs jobs. He interviews with the Lions today, sources said -- Paton is very close with Vikings GM Rick Spielman, obviously, and Spielman's brother, Chris, a former Lions linebacker, is very involved in the Detroit search. The Falcons and Broncos are also expected to peak to Paton ...
- Much has been made of 49ers exec Adam Peters possibly returning to Denver as a GM, and that is viable, but several execs in the NFL believe he is an ever better bet to land with the Panthers in that capacity ...
- Have a hard time seeing this hiring cycle end without longtime Patriots executive Nick Caserio landing a job. Houston was in negotiations with him on Tuesday and that's not going to fall apart, given how badly this owner tried to land him a few years back. Either way, count him among the bevy of people who have been looking to get out of New England with the Tom Brady exodus brewing for long before 2019, and that franchise at a crossroads the likes of which we haven't really seen before this century. Caserio has ties to Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll from their time in New England; Daboll has close ties to Chargers GM Tom Telesco as well, as we told you previously, and that could make for quite a tug of war. Deshaun Watson or Justin Herbert? Winning proposition either way. I would be shocked, contrary to what many would speculate, if Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was a package deal with Caserio. That is not the case ...
- There remains a very robust market for two current college coaches in particular -- Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald and Iowa State's Matt Campbell. Several GMs I spoke to get the sense that Campbell is ready to make the jump after resisting it in the past, and while Fitzgerald is more prone to listen than he has been in the past, sources said he won't make any decisions on conducting any interviews until later in the week.