Tua Tagovailoa contract: Breaking down the decision shaping Miami’s future

The Miami Dolphins were bounced from the playoffs with a 26-7 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on Saturday night, so an offseason that will be headlined by a looming financial quarterback question kicked off sooner than the franchise would have liked.

And now the Dolphins have a decision to make.

Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is entering the final year of his contract. Miami will have to decide over the next several months whether to re-up him to the tune of roughly a quarter-billion dollars in an ever-ballooning quarterback market, or go into the 2024 season with a lame duck leading the offense. The second scenario may signal the Dolphins preparing to part with perhaps the franchise’s best QB since Dan Marino.

But that’s not Tagovailoa’s top concern at the moment.

“I don’t feel any pressure at all,” the signal-caller told reporters postgame when asked about entering a contract season. “I have full trust in myself. I have full trust in what I’m capable of doing for our organization, but outside of that, we’re focusing on tonight and what happened. We’re going to simmer on this and see what we can do to get better from it for next year.”

He added: “I’m not worried about that right now. Right now, this is a moment for the guys in that locker room and our team to be with one another, to sulk in this and learn from it.”

Tagovailoa is due $23.17 million next season thanks to a fifth-year option on his rookie contract the Dolphins previously picked up. But after that, things are murky. National Football League (NFL) teams rarely let what they believe to be franchise quarterbacks, especially young ones, reach the final seasons of their contracts. The closest example of late is the New York Giants paying out $160 million to Daniel Jones last spring after his rookie deal expired.

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Meanwhile, three other quarterbacks from the 25-year-old’s draft class have already been signed long-term. Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert, and Jalen Hurts all signed lucrative extensions between $255 million and $275 million within the last year. They make up three of the league’s four highest-paid players in terms of average annual value, according to Spotrac.

Tua Tagovailoa of the Miami Dolphins is seen at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium on Saturday in Kansas City, Missouri. Tagovailoa is now entering the final season of his contract after a Wild Card loss.
Kara Durrette/Getty Images/Getty Images

And at one time, it seemed like a no-brainer that Tagovailoa would join them.

Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel went full-sarcasm when the team broke the record for offensive output through five weeks of the season, saying “Mission accomplished.” And Tagovailoa, at that point, was an MVP contender. But a dreamy offensive start to the 2023 season, 70-point performance and all, proved to be too much for Miami to live up to.

Over the last three weeks, the Dolphins have suffered an embarrassing 56-19 loss to the Baltimore Ravens, choked away the AFC East against the Buffalo Bills, and were bounced from the playoffs by the Chiefs.

And as Miami faltered, so did its quarterback.

Tagovailoa combined for four touchdowns and five interceptions over those three games. In his playoff debut against the Chiefs, the Alabama product completed 20 of his 39 pass attempts for 199 yards, an interception, and an underthrown touchdown to Tyreek Hill on the team’s first possession of the second quarter.

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The arctic playoff encounter between the Chiefs and Dolphins was so chilly, Patrick Mahomes’ frozen helmet cracked on impact. Chiefs head coach Andy Reid’s mustache grew icicles, while beverages froze right in front of fans’ very eyes at Arrowhead Stadium during the fourth-coldest game in recorded NFL history.

The once-unmatched Dolphins offense was just as frigid.

The Dolphins scored just a lone touchdown, converted only once on third down, and failed to find any semblance of an offensive spark in its frosty loss to the Chiefs on the first evening of Wild Card Weekend. Miami’s short-handed defense managed to keep Mahomes and company out of the end zone for a two-quarter-plus span, but the team’s offense couldn’t capitalize.

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That, though, isn’t all on Tagovailoa, according to his coach and top pass-cather.

“It would be a far cry from putting blame on one player,” McDaniel said postgame. “He made some good plays tonight. I know there are some plays that we would want to have back. I know there were some calls he liked and some I would want back. I think that goes across the board. There were a lot of really good things, and we have all learned to have high expectations for that unit. Seven points isn’t good enough. We will have to live with that and learn from that and try to take another step. That is what you are always trying to do.”

Added Hill: “We had a couple of off-target throws and a lot of it was on the receivers. We weren’t in position to make plays for our quarterback when he needed us the most…We’re going to come back and we’re going to learn from it. Guys are going to take this on the chin for sure.”

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There were plenty of positives to take away from Tagovailoa’s fourth NFL season.

Coming off a 2022 campaign dampened by two concussions, the former first-round pick started all 17 contests for the Dolphins and led the NFL in passing yards (4,624), while also setting career-highs in passing touchdowns (29) and completion percentage (69.3). Over the past two seasons, the now first-time Pro Bowler ranks second in the league in yards per throw, expected points added per pass attempt, and adjusted net yards per attempt, per the Ringer.

But the sting of a loss in the minus-27 degree Kansas City air (accounting for wind chill) will linger for the Dolphins. And over the next handful of months, the franchise will have to weigh whether it has the quarterback in place to take the next step. If it believes it does —easy enough, pay Tagovailoa.

If the Dolphins don’t think the left-hander is the answer to Miami’s quest for its first Super Bowl title in 50 years, then Tagovailoa’s NFL future may be spent elsewhere.