Publicly, the Dolphins will say nothing about when or if quarterback Tua Tagovailoa will be cleared to return after at least two and possibly three concussions in 2022. Privately, someone is talking.
Adam Schefter of ESPN.com, citing unnamed sources, reports that Tagovailoa is “expected” to be the team’s starting quarterback in 2023. Schefter adds that, in the event the Dolphins beat the Bills on Sunday, Tua could be cleared from the league’s concussion protocol to play next weekend in the divisional round, in what would be a visit to Kansas City.
Before Tua can play, he needs to be cleared. Three weeks after suffering his latest concussion, that hasn’t happened. And, at the risk of being even more painfully obvious than usual, until he’s cleared, he’s not.
The bigger question is whether Tua will continue to suffer head injuries. Each one in 2022 (whether two of them or three) happened when he struck his head on the turf after being thrown to the ground by a defender. And every time Tua suffers another concussion, it spills beyond sports, with network morning shows and cable news channels clamoring to cover the situation. If he’s the starter in 2023, Tua will need to be aggressively coached on better protecting himself.
The news comes at a time when Tom Brady, whom the Dolphins aggressively pursued (in violation of the tampering rules) in 2020 and 2022, has been linked to the team. If Brady decides Miami becomes the best way to strike a work-life balance in order to remain close to his children while still playing the sport he seems destined to keep playing as long as he physically can, will owner Stephen Ross tell him, “No thanks”?
And as to the possibility of Tua playing next week, the Dolphins will have a different question to answer. If they score the biggest upset in the history of wild-card weekend, would they ride with rookie Skylar Thompson against the Chiefs? That ultimately depends on whether they’d win today because of the seventh-rounder or in spite of him.
Still, it’s hard to imagine Thompson not having some positive role in overcoming a 13-point spread, and having it resonate enough to get the team to think seriously about keeping the hot hand in place, in lieu of bringing back Tua nearly a full month since he last played.
Finally, here’s something Schefter’s report doesn’t address, one way or the other. Will the Dolphins pick up the fifth-year option on Tua’s rookie deal? The deadline is May 3. The salary for 2024 automatically becomes fully-guaranteed. The report also doesn’t address whether the Dolphins will attempt to extend Tua’s contract, now that he’s eligible for a second deal.
His performance improved significantly under first-year coach Mike McDaniel; there’s no disputing that. But the best quarterbacks don’t miss many or any games. Whether it’s concussions or ribs or anything else, the next challenge for Tua is figuring out how to avoid missing games, so that he can suit up and play, each and every weekend.