The Miami Dolphins, like all teams that are finished with their seasons, have promised a period of self-evaluation.
“I think right now we’re going to focus on evaluating the team, evaluating the roster and creating a vision for what we want 2021 to look like,” coach Brian Flores said last week. “That’s a one day at a time process and that’s kind of the early part of the offseason.”
But here’s something strange: On the same day last week Flores and general manager Chris Grier spoke of needing a thorough look in the mirror before deciding on a course for 2021, they also told us the most important decision of 2021 is already made.
Grier said Tua Tagovailoa will be the starting quarterback for 2021, which suggests a long evaluation or deep exam of the starting quarterback position is either complete or not necessary.
And that caught the attention of at least three players within the team because they have told the Herald in recent days they didn’t see enough from Tagovailoa in 2020 to promise him, well, anything for next season.
“I understand what they said,” one player said. “But I don’t understand why.”
These players said they remain hopeful Tagovailoa will improve, but admitted he was not outstanding as a rookie, in their opinions.
And anyone who watched the Dolphins last season indeed saw Tagovailoa was good at times and not good at others.
“I think Tua has made a lot of improvement, really developed over the course of the year, so we’ll just continue to try to make those improvements,” Flores said.
But the concerning thing to the players who spoke to the Herald is they are not convinced Tagovailoa is going to be great in the future.
They said they were unimpressed by Tagovailoa during training camp to the point they thought he wouldn’t be ready to play in 2020. They said they were “caught totally off guard,” as one put it, when Tagovailoa was named the starter the seventh game of the season.
And another said that before the season finale when players were informed by Flores that Ryan Fitzpatrick would not be available against the Buffalo Bills, he was disappointed because he believes Fitzpatrick was better than Tagovailoa.
These players, speaking anonymously because they say coaches demand they never voice any concerns in the media, all agree Tagovailoa is a great person. They say he’s “humble” and “quiet” and “a competitor.”
This is good.
But the players also say they don’t see a special trait in Tagovailoa’s skill set beyond his accuracy.
One defensive player said he isn’t impressed with Tagovailoa’s ball velocity or arm strength or ability to make off-schedule plays with his legs. So he ultimately questions whether Tagovailoa will ever be able to match the feats of other quarterbacks in the AFC such as Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes or Deshaun Watson.
“Those are the boys we got to beat, right?” this player said. “It looks right now like that’s going to be a big challenge.”
An offensive player said he likes Tagovailoa a lot as a teammate and is hopeful he becomes “great someday.”
But that same player added he “got frustrated” when Flores told the team Fitzpatrick would not be available for the season finale against Buffalo.
“We always think next man up no matter what,” the player said. “But I saw Tua as the next man up because Fitz was better.”
This raises questions about the confidence at least a handful of Dolphins players have about their 2021 starting quarterback. It’s unknown if other players agree or disagree.
But it also raises the question why Grier and Flores are showing so much confidence in Tagovailoa.
Because everything they have seen — the closed practices, the meetings, the preparation Tagovailoa does — is also seen by most of the players.
And players often know who among them is supremely talented and who isn’t as soon, if not sooner, than coaches or personnel department people do.
One more thing the players were asked but could not answer:
They couldn’t explain how the team is promising competition at every position, including quarterback, but still naming Tagovailoa the quarterback.
“It’s competition at every position, so yeah,” Grier said about adding the quarterback spot to that thinking. “But I also want to be clear that Tua is our starter and we’re very happy with his development so far.”
Said one player: “I don’t know, man, that’s like a puzzle right there.”