The Dolphins got their quarterback.
It didn't come without a little bit of drama and a whole lot of gamesmanship, but kudos general manager Chris Grier. His aggressive deconstruction of the roster last spring led many fans and pundits to point to "tanking" as the only acceptable explanation for Miami's personnel decisions. Shortly after, "Tank For Tua" was born, and for half of the 2019 season, "Tank For Tua" thrived on news stations, Twitter feeds and message boards across the internet.
A slew of curveballs followed and served as the latest case in point to why "tanking" and putting all of your proverbial eggs in the basket of one prospect 12 months away is foolish. The Dolphins transitioned from 0-7 bottom feeders to a 5-4 finish over their final nine games, elevating from the contention of the No. 1 pick to securing the draft's fifth selection. While, on the college scene, Tua Tagovailoa endured a brutal hip injury that nearly caused the prized passer to return to Alabama for the 2020 season.
But this story does have a happy ending. Grier and the Dolphins played their intentions close to the vest and conflicting reports between the end of the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine and the day of the draft had many convinced Miami was put off by the risk of Tagovailoa and it would play it safe with Oregon's Justin Herbert, instead.
The Dolphins didn't.
But now that the hay is in the barn, they must now ask themselves another question? Is it “Tua Time?”
When is the right time for Miami to hand over the keys of its offense to Tagovailoa? He’s an absolute superstar and media darling; the demand and anticipation to see Tagovailoa take the field — provided he's medically cleared to do so, for that matter — is going to reach a fever pitch soon.
The Dolphins haven't had a star of this magnitude since they traded for Ricky Williams in the early 2000s. Williams promptly led the league in rushing with over 1,800 yards in 2002 and endured 872 touches in two seasons before an abrupt (and short-lived) retirement cut into his legacy. Williams returned in 2005 and redeemed himself while becoming an advocate for anxiety and mental health, but his playing career never returned to the lofty heights of his first year with the Dolphins.
You have to go even further back to find a quarterback with this level of prestige in Miami. Hell, the town as a whole is sorely lacking a sports superstar. It was Dan Marino for nearly two decades and then Dwyane Wade arrived in 2003 and claimed the mantle as the town evolved into a basketball city first and foremost; that rise came in tandem with the Dolphins' struggles.
Even Miami’s once-proud college football dynasty melted away over the course of the last 15 years; mirroring the decline of the Dolphins and the rise of the Heat as South Florida's dominant team. The Miami Hurricanes have won two bowl games in the last 15 years and have twice as many losing seasons in the last decade as they do years with double-digit wins.
Wade retired and now the city is searching for its next sports superstar. Everyone in town will be eager to crown Tagovailoa as the man. He brings a level of play and championship pedigree to the Dolphins that, when paired with promising young coach Brian Flores, gives Miami its best chance at relevancy in years.
But these decisions are not made with the court of public opinion in mind. The Dolphins would be wise to handle their prized quarterback with care. This is a long-term rebuild and the Dolphins are doing everything in their power to build a long-term winner.
If Miami wants to continue doing so, it ought to consider shelving Tagovailoa for the first half of 2020 at a minimum. From there, the Dolphins can assess whether or not they're aligned to challenge for the postseason. If they are, don't change anything and continue to let veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick commandeer the offense.
Fitzpatrick is well versed in new offensive coordinator Chan Gailey's system and has a year of sweat equity with the Dolphins; he served as the calming presence that pulled a proverbial island of misfit toys together to win more games than they lost over their final nine contests of 2020.
If the postseason is out of reach, the Dolphins then need to ask themselves why. If the offensive line is an underperforming asset — and there's a chance chemistry will be an issue; Miami has attacked this offseason with the apparent intent of replacing every incumbent starter up front — again the Dolphins should avoid placing Tagovailoa on the field.
Miami has the luxury of a promising rookie passer, one of the youngest rosters in the league and coach with ample momentum on his side. There is literally no rush — other than from the public court.
There's only one appropriate answer for when "Tua Time" is the right time in Miami. When the offensive line appears ready and not a moment sooner. Because if we're being honest, it's already "Tua Time" in South Florida — it's just a formality of getting him on the field.