While the future of Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson fueled the most conversation at the NFL’s annual league meetings in Phoenix this week, the status of Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa also generated some discussion.
Tagovailoa suffered two diagnosed concussions last season, and the handling of a third possible head injury prompted the NFL to change its policy in dealing with possible concussions. Tagovailoa missed Miami’s last three games, including the wild-card loss in Buffalo. He was cleared from protocol on Feb. 1.
“This is something that our training staff and Tua have been attacking every day,” coach Mike McDaniel told reporters at the league meetings when asked about Tagovailoa’s health. “He's in a great spot.”
Once he was given permission to progress through protocol, Tagovailoa underwent extensive testing before he was cleared.
“It really entailed a lot of exertion, so like running, ocular and vestibular movements, so like balance, proprioception, things like that,” he told USA Today during Super Bowl week. “Having went to see a doctor in Pittsburgh, got clear from him, and then had to do written tests, memorization.”
Tagovailoa revealed he was going to be taking up jiu-jitsu, which among other things, could help with impact when he falls. Each of his injuries was caused by the back of his head slamming against the turf.
“I'm really encouraged about the work that he's doing for preventative injuries with his core and his neck training,” McDaniel said. “His jiu-jitsu stuff has been outstanding, so doing all the things that we can control to best position us, and he's in a great place because of that. He's excited.”
The Dolphins became the first NFL team of this year’s cycle to exercise a player’s fifth-year option when they picked up Tagovailoa’s in March. Their decision came well ahead of the May 2 deadline.
It wasn’t much of a surprise, considering McDaniel and general manager Chris Grier had spent the previous months calling Tagovailoa the Dolphins’ starting quarterback, but Grier also said that nothing was off the table in terms of exercising the option or extending the former first-round pick.
But once due diligence was complete, Miami felt like there was no point in prolonging what it already knew.
“The bottom-line procedure was like, ‘Alright, well, the scenario of picking up the fifth-year option gives Tua the best chance to be his best and is the best thing for the organization,’” McDaniel said. “That’s what we’re really chasing. We’re chasing that – where both parties maximized an opportunity.
“So once we knew that, I hadn’t really paid attention to the fifth-year option timeline … I mean, once we knew we knew, so that way I didn’t have to play unnecessary poker face for no reason.”
Tagovailoa had the type of season that provided fodder for supporters and critics, alike. He led the NFL in passer rating (105.5) and yards per attempt (8.9), setting career highs in every major passing category in his first year with McDaniel. But he also suffered serious injuries.
As far as Jackson, McDaniel told the Palm Beach Post and South Florida Sun-Sentinel that the team will not pursue the 26-year-old former MVP. The Dolphins finished a game with a different quarterback than they started with on five occasions last season, so they prioritized getting a high-level backup with Teddy Bridgewater hitting free agency.
The Dolphins signed former New York Jets quarterback Mike White on the first day legal tampering began in March, and McDaniel said he will compete with 2022 seventh-round pick Skylar Thompson for the primary backup role behind Tagovailoa.
Speaking with local media last week, White sounded cognizant of his role as a backup and looked forward to joining what he called a “very talented roster.”
“As far as my role, I mean as any backup quarterback, it’s to support the guy and do whatever you can,” White said. “I think some of the best quarterback rooms I’ve been a part of is just everyone has a voice and everyone has a say, and it’s really good dialogue in the room and support systems and it makes going to work fun.
“Whenever you have that relationship in the quarterback room, obviously healthy competition and all that good stuff, but when you’re supporting the guy and saying, ‘hey man, this is what I see.’ Or when it’s your turn and you ask like, ‘hey guys, are you seeing any of this?’ That’s been the best rooms I’ve been around, and that’s kind of my plan of action going into it is just being a sounding board for whoever and helping however I can.”