Midseason, it didn’t look like the Miami Dolphins’ relationship with quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was going in the right direction.
The Dolphins were heavily reported as the top suitor in trade talks with the Houston Texans for star quarterback Deshaun Watson, who faces 22 civil suits alleging sexual misconduct including two that allege sexual assault.
But the Nov. 2 trade deadline came and went without the Dolphins making a move, and Tagovailoa has played some of his best football since with Miami entering Monday night’s matchup at the New Orleans Saints on a six-game winning streak.
The trade conversations feel like they occurred long ago, and the Dolphins’ second-year signal caller is feeling the love within the organization, especially from coach Brian Flores.
“I think I’m getting a lot of support from the organization,” Tagovailoa said in a pregame feature with ESPN on Monday Night Countdown. “With our head coach, a lot of it has to do with communication. I would say he’s just a very straightforward person. For me, I like that. That’s how I grew up. That’s kind of how my dad is. Doesn’t tell you what you like to hear but tells you what you need to hear.”
Heading into Monday’s game, Tagovailoa led NFL starting quarterbacks in completion percentage, at 69.9. He had a run of four straight games with a passer rating above 100 before a two-interception game that preceded Monday night at the Saints.
“The better he plays now, the more case he makes for that job going forward,” ESPN’s Adam Schefter said. “He’s winning games, playing well. If that continues, you will think he will be the Dolphins’ quarterback of the future. He struggles down the stretch, they don’t win games, they fall short of the playoffs, I think some of those conversations could come back up again. … Tua controls his destiny here.”
Former players turned analysts also offered their thoughts, and Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young pointed to the Dolphins’ offensive line issues as making it difficult to measure Tagovailoa.
“In my mind, it’s so difficult to show who you truly are in that situation,” he said. “I think we’re going to need a whole ‘nother year and some more support, but what you see is a stabilizing quarterback that can be a good quarterback for 10 years in this league. Can he be great? I don’t know.”
“Great,” analyst Marcus Spears added of Tagovailoa’s development earlier on ESPN’s SportsCenter, “Because he’s playing, and he’s not dealing with this franchise or organization or the news cycle talking about what quarterback is going to come in and replace him. He’s not being compared to Justin Herbert anymore. He’s been allowed to play. He’s not sharing time with Ryan Fitzpatrick anymore. He’s had an opportunity to develop through games.”
Monday Night Countdown also had a feature on a pair of big-man touchdowns for the Dolphins this season — one which didn’t count. Defensive tackle Christian Wilkins had his score and ensuing celebration from the Dec. 19 win over the New York Jets highlighted, along with right guard Robert Hunt’s illegal catch and run to dive across the goal line on Nov. 11 against the Baltimore Ravens.
The Dolphins did not add or remove players from their reserve/COVID-19 list ahead of kickoff against the Saints, but they announced three elevations to their active roster from their practice squad for Monday Night Football as COVID replacements.
Miami brought up offensive tackles Roderick Johnson and Adam Pankey and running back Jordan Scarlett.
No new players landed on the COVID list Monday after offensive guard Solomon Kindley and wide receiver Albert Wilson were placed on it on Saturday. They joined linebacker Duke Riley, cornerback Justin Coleman, center Greg Mancz, guard Robert Jones and tight end Cethan Carter.
Johnson and Pankey were natural elevations given the Dolphins’ lack of depth on the offensive line against the Saints. While none of the starting five linemen were affected by the virus this past week, Miami only had center Cameron Tom, who was elevated on Saturday as a COVID replacement, available as a backup before Johnson and Pankey were called up.
Johnson, a Florida State alum, has appeared in 29 NFL games with six starts for the Houston Texans over the past three seasons. He joined the Dolphins’ practice squad on Sept. 20.
Pankey has been up and down between the Dolphins’ active roster and practice squad since December of 2019. He has appeared in six games with one start for Miami.
Scarlett’s elevation came as fellow running back Salvon Ahmed was named one of the Dolphins’ three pregame inactives to be one of four active-roster backs with Myles Gaskin, Phillip Lindsay and Duke Johnson.
It’s also interesting that Scarlett, the St. Thomas Aquinas High and Florida grad who signed back to the Dolphins’ practice squad on Dec. 16, was elevated over rookie seventh-round pick Gerrid Doaks. Doaks has spent his first season on the practice squad and was activated from the COVID list within the past week.
The Dolphins had also previously elevated receiver and returner Tommylee Lewis, a former Saint who attended Dwyer High, which is also backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett’s alma mater.
Cornerback Trill Williams and defensive tackle John Jenkins joined Ahmed as healthy pregame inactives as the Dolphins didn’t have any players with injury designations entering Monday.
Armstead out, plus Saints’ COVID issues
The Dolphins’ coronavirus issues come mostly to backups, but the Saints went into Sunday’s game with several starters among the 21 total players on their COVID list.
It included quarterbacks Taysom Hill and Trevor Siemian, All-Pro tackle Ryan Ramczyk, linebackers Demario Davis and Kwon Alexander, safety Malcolm Jenkins and Pro Bowl special teams ace J.T. Gray.
Ramczyk’s absence at right tackle was only amplified once three-time Pro Bowl left tackle Terron Armstead was deemed out ahead of Monday’s kickoff. Armstead entered questionable with a knee injury.
While Armstead missed the game, Saints defensive end Marcus Davenport (shoulder/knee) and wide receiver Tre’Quan Smith (shoulder) were active.
Now Titans hit by COVID
After facing the COVID-decimated Saints on Monday night, the Dolphins get the Tennessee Titans (10-5) on Sunday, and they’re adding to their list of players in protocols early in the week.
The Titans placed wide receivers Julio Jones and Nick Westbrook-Ikhine and pass rusher Bud Dupree to their COVID list on Monday.
Tennessee already had left tackle Taylor Lewan and both guards, Nate Davis and Rodger Saffold, among those on the list. There is still ample time for players on Tennessee’s COVID list to return in time for Sunday’s game.