Dolphins' failed pursuit of Tom Brady leaves QB Tua Tagovailoa in unenviable spot again | Opinion
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa signed autographs, posed for photos with fans and heard them serenade him with “Tua! Tua! Tua!” chants after training camp practice, while the NFL delivered its punishment to owner Stephen Ross for tampering with Tom Brady and Sean Payton.
While Tagovailoa felt the love from the Dolphins' fan base, the NFL’s ruling – stripping Miami of two draft picks while suspending Ross through Oct. 17 and fining him $1.5 million – was just another reminder how his own franchise hasn’t loved him the same.
Whether it was Brady or Deshaun Watson, the Dolphins tried incessantly to land a big-fish quarterback to elevate their franchise. And since they failed, Tagovailoa must navigate his third NFL season, knowing he’s the quarterback Miami has settled on more than the one they covet.
“I’m still here. I’m blessed to be here,” Tagovailoa said Wednesday in another press conference in which he again had to address his team’s overtures despite his position as starting quarterback.
“If it has to do with support from the team, I think the team’s all in with me and the guys.”
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While this news can bring up some old, unwanted feelings for Tagovailoa – even though his approach is “don’t hear it, don’t see it” – it doesn’t change his mindset and what he must accomplish in 2022.
Tagovailoa must still prove he can stay healthy, deliver the football downfield to weapons like Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle and help the Dolphins compete with the reigning AFC East champion Buffalo Bills while contending for a playoff berth.
And he must do his best to move past the uncomfortable start to his career the organization has put him through.
“For me, I have no idea about all of the details other than what was shown on TV with the $1.5 million fine (for Ross) and then something happening with Brady,” Tagovailoa said Wednesday upon hearing the NFL’s report.
“I don’t know all of the details. I don’t even know what happened. I got to talk to a couple of the guys to kind of find out what was going on and everyone is wondering the same thing. I’m not too sure.”
The Dolphins could not tank correctly. They could not land Brady or Payton before hiring new coach Mike McDaniel. They did not acquire Watson. Yet Ross has another stain in his stint as Dolphins owner despite his attempts to turn his franchise into a Super Bowl contender.
The Dolphins are celebrating the 50th anniversary of their undefeated 1972 season, the first of back-to-back Super Bowl wins. And they haven’t won one since.
Can you blame the Dolphins owner for trying to land the greatest quarterback in NFL history in Brady? Or a quarterback entering his prime despite off-field transgressions like Watson? Or a Super Bowl-winning coach like Payton?
It was supposed to be "tank for Tua," the social media phenomenon that linked Tagovailoa – the favorite to be the top pick in 2020 before his gruesome hip injury and Joe Burrow’s emergence at LSU – to the Dolphins during the 2019 season.
The NFL found the Dolphins did not tank games to improve their 2020 draft status, although the Mary Jo White's investigation determined Ross advised Dolphins leadership that should take precedent over winning games. Ex-coach Brian Flores even alleged Ross offered him $100,000 to lose games, which the NFL ruled “was not intended or taken to be a serious offer.”
Still, Miami winded up with Tagovailoa, drafting him fifth overall, ahead of Justin Herbert, after a 5-11 season in 2019. Burrow was drafted first by the Cincinnati Bengals, whom he guided to the Super Bowl last season.
But even before the draft, the Dolphins wanted Brady. Bruce Beal, the Dolphins vice chairman and partner as well as the league-approved successor to Ross, did the negotiating on Miami’s behalf during the 2019 season and again in 2021. The most recent talks even centered around Brady becoming a Dolphins minority owner, the investigation found.
Outside of New England Patriots and Tampa Bay Buccaneers leadership, few would question Miami’s pursuit of Brady. Any quarterback in the NFL is replaceable if the replacement is Brady.
Back-channel conversations between NFL leaders, players, coaches and agents take place, but the Dolphins’ tampering came to light because Flores blew the whistle in his civil lawsuit against his former team and the league.
Ross and Beal's attempts to land Brady and Payton were "unprecedented," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said.
Still, their attempts to land Brady – especially with Miami’s track record reaching just three postseasons this millennium – were an attempt to turn the Dolphins into a contender.
Sprinkled in between was a pursuit of Watson, where the Dolphins were seemingly the only team at the negotiating table last year thanks to Watson’s no-trade clause. A trade might have happened had Watson reached settlements with all 24 of his civil lawsuits before the NFL trade deadline last November, as Watson’s lawyer Rusty Hardin has said.
The Watson pursuit was damaging for Tagovailoa during his second season. The Dolphins started 1-7 and finished the season 8-1 coincidently when the trade deadline passed. The Dolphins missed the postseason despite a winning record for the second straight year under Flores.
Now, Watson is with the Cleveland Browns and facing a six-game suspension after an NFL investigation into his alleged sexual misconduct from massage therapy sessions. He settled 20 lawsuits on June 21 and three more on Monday before his suspension was handed down.
Brady, after a 40-day retirement, is preparing for his third season with the Buccaneers. He hopes to win his eighth Super Bowl this season and second with Tampa.
And McDaniel became the Dolphins’ latest coach, replacing Flores, once Miami’s attempts to pursue Payton failed.
Tagovailoa has worked this offseason to learn McDaniel’s new offense while creating chemistry with teammates in hopes of a productive season.
“He’s getting more comfortable. He’s in his third year. He knows a lot of the guys are counting on him and a lot of the guys on the team have always believed in Tua,” Dolphins receiver Trent Sherfield said.
“There has never been a doubt in anyone’s mind.”
Except the Dolphins’ front office.
While the reminder could be tough the swallow, Tagovailoa knows – at least for now – that his job as Dolphins starter is safe.
It would take an incredible amount of audacity for Ross and the Dolphins to again pursue Brady and/or Payton after this fiasco. Then again, Ross and the Dolphins showed no shame or remorse in the first place in their failed pursuit to elevate franchise.
Tagovailoa and McDaniel might naturally feel uneasy about the long-term standing in Miami.
You can’t blame them for that, just like you can’t blame the Dolphins for trying and failing to land bigger fish.
Follow USA TODAY Sports' Safid Deen on Twitter @Safid_Deen.