“We cannot allow this to happen to Tua.”
Tannehill — the Dolphins’ seven-year quarterback lab project who persevered through several good moments, a bunch of disappointing ones, 248 sacks, and not a single playoff win — is a reminder of what happens when you surround a skilled first-round quarterback with an uneven supporting cast.
Credit the Dolphins for drafting Jaylen Waddle. But aside from lost cause Will Fuller, that’s pretty much the extent of the clearly above average weapons added to the roster since drafting Tagovailoa.
To gain an appreciation for how little the Dolphins have done to help Tagovailoa, consider:
▪ They entered the week last in pass block win rate (45 percent).
▪ Their running backs are averaging 3.4 yards per carry, worst in the league.
▪ They entered the week tied for sixth in most passes dropped with 20.
▪ They entered the week 25th in yards after catch.
The case could be made that Tagovailoa has been given less support than Tannehill, who — during times of his career — had an elite center in Mike Pouncey, a very good left tackle in Jake Long (one year) and Branden Albert (three) and Laremy Tunsil (two), Pro Bowl receivers in Jarvis Landry and Mike Wallace and decent backs in Lamar Miller, Jay Ajayi and Kenyan Drake.
And anyone would still say that the Dolphins didn’t do enough to support Tannehill because the offensive line (except perhaps one season) always had holes and Miami never gave him an elite power running back — anybody close in quality to Derrick Henry — who could make his job easier. Ajayi was great for half a season, and that was it.
Tagovailoa, conversely, hasn’t had a single former Pro Bowler alongside him on offense except Phillip Lindsay, who has played two games in his Dolphins career.
While owner Stephen Ross should be encouraged that Grier has hit on several draft picks, he should be alarmed that this front office has never been able to solve the offensive line or find an elite back, the two ingredients that were mostly missing for Tannehill and are vital for Tagovailoa’s long-term success.
What happened when the Titans surrounded Tannehill with those two components?
He instantly morphed from decent to very good. In his first two seasons with Tennessee — playing with Henry and the best offensive line of his career – he produced passer ratings of 117.5 and 106.5, by far the best of his career, along with 55 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.
That compares with an 87 passer rating in six years in Miami.
Tannehill was sacked an average of 27.5 times per season in his first two years in Tennessee, compared with 41.3 per season in his six seasons in Miami.
Yes, there are major differences between the two: Tannehill has the stronger arm; Tagovailoa has far better pocket presence, is more accurate and is more nimble avoiding sacks.
But the point is the same: Surround Tagovailoa with the type of supporting cast that Tannehill had in his first two years in Tennessee, and it’s not unreasonable to expect a jump from pretty good to very good.
And remember, Tagovailoa now (94.0 passer rating/16th best in league) is as good or better than Tannehill ever was in a full season in Miami; his higher passer rating in six seasons here was 93.5.
And if Grier needs any reminder, he can look at what’s happened to Tannehill this season amid injuries to 2020 NFL Offensive Player of the Year Henry (who has missed seven games with a broken foot and is out Sunday against Miami) and three-time Pro Bowl tackle Taylor Lewan (who missed four games with a head injury and is now back off the COVID list) and 2020 Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Brown (who missed three games recently with a chest injury).
In the seven games without Henry, Tannehill has five touchdowns, seven interceptions and a 69.9 passer rating — compared to a 111 rating with Henry in the lineup in 2019 and 2020.
So if Tannehill can make such a jump with an elite back and strong offensive line, imagine what Tagovailoa could do.
Because of the lack of support, “you play in such a defensive posture if you’re Tua,” ESPN’s Dan Orlovsky said. “I can’t hold the ball. I can’t push it downfield. It has to get out of my hands.”
And as ESPN’s Steve Young said Monday: “I don’t know what he can become and I don’t think we’re going to find out. I think we’re going to need a whole other year and some more support.”
So if the Dolphins opt to continue with Tagovailoa instead of trading for Deshaun Watson, the mission for Grier is simple: Find two very good starting offensive linemen in free agency (New Orleans’ left tackle Terron Armstead would be a start) and acquire a clear-cut workhorse No. 1 back, preferably a blue chip draft prospect who can wear down defenses.
“There’s not an elite guy such as Ezekiel Elliott or Christian McCaffrey who will go in the top 10, which means teams should wait until Round 2 to get better value,” ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. said of the running back talent in April’s NFL Draft.
“There could be six backs who get second-round grades from me, however. Breece Hall [Iowa State], Kenneth Walker III [Michigan State] and Isaiah Spiller [Texas A&M] top my rankings.”
Ross’ message to Grier should be this: Don’t come home from the draft without one of those players, or another skilled back on Day 2 of the draft. (Miami has the 49ers’ first-round pick, its own second-round pick and the 49ers’ third-rounder.)
And if the Dolphins have any doubt about what they need to do for Tagovailoa, watch more tape of Tannehill to remind themselves what the Titans did for Tannehill and the Dolphins’ didn’t.
THIS AND THAT
▪ Not a single Dolphins player was listed on the final injury report, meaning everyone on the 53-man roster will be available on Sunday. As expected, receiver Albert Wilson and guard Solomon Kindley were activated from the COVID-19 list.
The Dolphins must decide by 4 p.m. Saturday whether to activate defensive lineman Adam Butler, safety Brandon Jones, receiver Preston Williams or defensive tackle John Jenkins. That would keep alive the possibility of any of them playing on Sunday if they clear protocols on Sunday morning, which requires exhibiting no symptoms of the virus.
▪ The Titans listed defensive end Larrell Murchison and linebacker Derick Roberson as questionable for Sunday’s game.