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Confessions Of A Hardcore ‘Tuamaniac’

Miami Dolphins v Buffalo Bills Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images

When the Dolphins promoted Chris Grier to general manager and hired Brian Flores in January 2018, it became clear in the days and weeks that followed that Miami was on the precipice of an all-encompassing teardown. Owner Stephen Ross and his newly anointed GM made no bones about the fact that they intended to clear the decks of the proverbial ship, eliminate bad contracts and allow themselves to rebuild the roster and the franchise itself from the ashes of multiple previous failed regimes.

From the very moment I realized that the Dolphins were going to lose an awful lot of games during the 2019 season, I wanted one, and only one, player, at the top of the 2020 draft — Tuanigamanuolapola Tagovailoa, from Alabama. Of course, I’d have liked to seen them finagle their way into acquiring LSU’s Joe Burrow, but whoever held the first overall pick was going to draft Burrow, just as whoever held the first overall pick eight years earlier, in 2012, was going to select Andrew Luck. When those kinds of players are available — and for the record, I don’t believe Burrow will be as good as Luck was — the team that holds the rights to them doesn’t trade them away. So, Burrow, barring a miracle, was essentially a pipe dream for Dolphin fans. This would not be the case for Tagovailoa, but the long journey that was the 2019 NFL season was fraught with scares for guys like me, who wanted the kid from Alabama in the worst way. When the Dolphins unexpectedly won back-to-back games on the first two Sundays in November, I was inconsolable, believing that we’d lost our chance to draft the charismatic left-hander. But right around that same time, our team caught a very fortuitous break, the kind of lucky break that we haven’t received since Dan Marino fell to the 27th pick of the 1983 draft. Tagovailoa sustained a serious hip injury, and suddenly, the prospects of the Dolphins being able to acquire him had materialized. Yeah, I know; that sounds like a bad joke, but without the injury, we’d never have gotten him.

I know that some guys take exception to my saying our top pick’s injury was a stroke of luck for us, but what else can we call it? Tagovailoa almost certainly would not be on the team today, because he would have gone either first or second a year ago, and only an RGIII like compensation package would have made it possible for us to get him. If you’re not crazy about the QB as things stand now, how would you feel if we’d given up a boatload of draft picks to move up a few spots last year? And if your answer is, ‘I don’t care because Justin Herbert is better, anyway’, I beg to differ. Herbert was better last year, as a rookie; that doesn’t necessarily mean that he’ll be better in the years ahead. When Tagovailoa is 4-0 or 5-1 head-to-head against Herbert a few seasons from now, which I believe he will be, it’s going to be awfully hard to make that argument.

So, throughout the duration of the 2019 season, I lived and died every Sunday with the bounce of the ball during Dolphin games, and I also knew that unless he had his leg amputated, or was forced to forgo a career in the NFL, I still wanted Tua more than any other player. When he had his highly publicized workout a few weeks before the draft, and looked largely like his old self, I was at once elated and terrified, because although he certainly looked ready to play, I also knew that he might be drafted somewhere between the second and fourth picks (the Dolphins picked fifth in 2020), either by the original team who held the pick or by another team trading ahead of Miami. I cannot begin to describe how it felt when Roger Goddell called his name for the Dolphins on draft night. I don’t know who yelled the loudest, Josh Houtz, Kathleen Noa, or myself, but I’m pretty sure all three of us disturbed the neighbors. Although I’ve never, ever purchased any jerseys or other memorabilia of any athlete, the first thing I wanted to do when Tagovailoa was drafted was to order some things that were associated with him. Of course, since the draft had just ended, the only items available were from his time at Alabama, and while I have nowhere near the dislike for Nick Saban that a lot of other folks have, I didn’t really want any Crimson Tide stuff. Less than a week after the draft ended, a mask mandate, spurred the COVID uproar, went into effect here in Chicago, so I wrote his name across a mask in magic marker and went with that for a while.

I believe that this kid is going to do some amazing things for our team and that he hasn’t even scratched the surface of what he can be as an NFL quarterback. Bet against him at your own risk. However, if for some reason he doesn’t start to demonstrate that this season, I’ll be right there with the doubters. After all, this isn’t the 80’s or the 90’s. You either produce quickly or the team will find someone who can. To that end, I’m also not in favor of coddling quarterbacks; just because I think this kid is awesome doesn’t mean I want to see him babied. I don’t want to belabor the point, because I think I’ve talked about it enough already, but that sixth pick in this year’s draft was just an awful, awful move. I couldn’t condone moves like that when Tannehill was here and I can’t condone them now. On the other hand, Tagovailoa needs to average more than 200 yards a game through the air, so maybe it will help a little bit. In short, I agree that there was a problem but vehemently disagree with the solution. Just because I have a fly buzzing around in my kitchen doesn’t mean I have to go out and spend four or five hundred bucks on a new shotgun to kill the fly. I’m not at all impressed when I watch Waddle run; he’s not even a smooth, fluid athlete, and he’s also bow-legged. After you’ve watched him run, go watch Noah Igbinoghene, a guy who I believe is going to make a serious move up this season, possibly facilitating a Xavien Howard trade, run. I guarantee you that Igbinoghene was a better pick at number 30 than this guy was at 6. Think I’m wrong? Let’s have this conversation again two years from now. But, I’m not here to neg people out, I’m here to talk about the positives, so I’m going to let that one go for a while.

Now, I want to address a couple of questions that were asked recently. We talked about when the subject of trading Dan Marino was first broached. Although a journalist or two may have talked it in 1986, to my recollection, Marino publicly stated after the team went 6-10 in 1988 (they also gave up 305 yards rushing to Pittsburgh in the season finale that year) that he would like to play for one of four NFL teams: the Bears, Colts, Raiders or Steelers. The head coach of the Indianapolis Colts at the time, Ron Meyer, had a field day over his team being on Marino’s list, saying, on more than one occasion: ‘I’m tired of hearing how bad our offensive line is if it’s so bad, how come Dan Marino wanted to play here?’

Another guy wanted to know who the Dolphins’ GM was during the glory years of the early 1970s. Although, as far as I know, they didn’t really have a general manager (other than Shula) per se, Bobby Beathard was the director of player personnel for Miami from 1972-77. Losing him to the Redskins in ‘78, and then losing defensive coordinator Bill Arnsparger to LSU (he also coached the New York Giants from 1974-76) after the 1983 season proved to be a double whammy that the Dolphins were never really able to overcome. That’s the wrap for today, have a great week, everybody.