No one in their right mind would argue the Dolphins didn’t draft Tua Tagovailoa thinking he was their quarterback for the next decade. But isn’t a common-sense question at year’s end going to be an incomplete but updated, “Is he The Man?”
No one in their right mind also expects a coach to think too far beyond next Sunday, especially Brian Flores. But doesn’t everyone in the larger organization have to ponder a bigger picture?
Flores did what most coaches do on Thursday. He took exception to reports saying the Dolphins are “auditioning” (his word) Tua this year with a possible eye toward the 2021 draft.
“We brought Tua here because we believe in him,” Flores said. “The same as all of the other draft picks. We believe in developing players. I think you guys have heard me talk about improving players on a daily basis. That would be the opposite of giving somebody a 10-game audition.”
Flores supported his guy Thursday like he should. Like all good coaches do. He saw the positive in him — in their situation together. Dolphins coaches have done this forever with their quarterbacks. Tony Sparano did it after fans watched starter Chad Henne struggle in a preseason scrimmage and chanted, “We want (Kyle) Orton.”
“Other than the fact it makes me sick?” Sparano said about his reaction.
Flores wasn’t sick, just forceful, on a topic that began Sunday with ESPN’s Adam Schefter reporting one reason the Dolphins started Tagovailoa over Ryan Fitzpatrick was the upcoming draft. The Dolphins have Houston’s first-round pick from the Laremy Tunsil trade. At 1-6, Houston could be in line for a top-five pick (though its tough schedule eases coming up).
That means Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, who is considered the best quarterback prospect in years, Ohio State’s Justin Fields and North Dakota’s Trey Lance could be decisions for the Dolphins either with the Houston pick or in some possible trade of picks.
They might be, too. Or might not considering there’s no reason to think Tua won’t be The Answer. But you can see why the Dolphins don’t want any piece of this conversation at all in November.
It’s not just Tua, as Schefter said. The other issue Schefter left unstated: Do you want the general manager who made the Tua decision choosing the next quarterback, too? Especially if the Chargers’ Justin Herbert, picked one spot after Tua, keeps trending toward his stats of 15 touchdowns and five interceptions?
Here’s the real problem with this topic: It isn’t a November conversation. It’s too far down the road with too many off ramps and possibilities to discuss rationally in the middle of a season. Even Schefter backed off a bit Monday by stressing there were a “sea of reasons,” Tua was starting, that the Dolphins, “love him,” but also … you don’t know about quarterbacks until they play. And, well, you don’t.
Here’s the immediate issue: The next draft shouldn’t play into starting Tua. The decision was handled clumsily enough to suggest something was happening behind the scenes. But you should hope Tua was put in there because Flores saw enough in practice to think he can spark this offense in the second half of the year. A football decision. Period.
Could Ryan Fitzpatrick have played better Sunday? Probably. But with any young player the decision is made that with some game experience he’ll be the better option quickly. Tua should be, too. Let’s not forget the talent he has. Receivers stayed after practice Thursday for some extra work with him. Every bit helps.
“Organizations make quarterbacks,” said Bill Walsh, whose San Francisco organization made two Hall of Fame quarterbacks in Joe Montana and Steve Young.
Anyone who watched Ryan Tannehill struggle with the Dolphins and succeed in a better organization with better pieces in Tennessee understands Walsh’s thought. Tua needs organizational help around him. Every quarterback does.
The defense supplied that Sunday so his sketchy first start wasn’t the headline. Flores supplied support Thursday with some words.
What matters most is Tua’s play over the next couple of months. Who is he? How does he fare? Because come this winter, the Dolphins first question should be if their belief still trends to him being The Man after one year together.
If so, all is good. And, again, Tua has the kind of talent and personality to think it will happen.
But if not? That’s a possible scenario come winter. The next question then will be about Houston’s draft pick. Sparano, you see, might have been sick at those fans’ chants. But he felt worse when Henne wasn’t good enough.
©2020 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)
Visit the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) at www.sun-sentinel.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.