INDIANAPOLIS — Here lies "Tank For Tua." It lasted from January 2019 to March 2020.
We hardly knew you. Well, actually yes we did.
Allow me to be clear: This is not to say that the Miami Dolphins, the team most commonly tied to Tua Tagovailoa over the course of the past year, will not ultimately draft the Alabama passer. Heck, a team in front of them may end up pulling the trigger too. All it takes is one team to fall in love and avoid a tumble. There's a lot of time left between now and the 2020 NFL Draft.
But Tagovailoa didn't seem to feel the love this week at the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine — at least not from the team that has been tied to his services, which brings us to the here and now.
The possibility of drafting Tagovailoa is still on the table for the Dolphins, but they haven't married themselves to doing so exiting the combine. Despite 12-plus months of speculation that this was going to be a home-run arrangement and that Tagovailoa would be a slam dunk pick for Miami — or any quarterback hungry team, for that matter — we seem to have seen the Tagovailoa train fall into neutral. The whispers of the Dolphins' fondness of Oregon’s Justin Herbert grow louder, as Herbert has done well to alleviate his primary concern over the last few months while getting to know NFL executives (his personality and demeanor). The Miami Herald's Armando Salguero even went as far as to suggest that Herbert is the leader in the Dolphins' clubhouse for a choice at quarterback.
That's a far cry from Miami stripping down their roster to be one of the worst in recent history — which was the assertion as recently as August — all in the name of securing the rights to draft Tagovailoa in a well documented "Tank For Tua" campaign. And the Dolphins are not alone in no longer fully embracing Tagovailoa's resume.
Notable NFL employees from more than one team who spoke with the TDN staff this past week seemed to indicate they'd fall in line with the rumors swirling from the Miami Herald and favor Herbert over Tagovailoa on their own respective draft boards too.
The home-run pairing that the media has pegged Tagovailoa to be for the Dolphins? Not everyone who actually makes these decisions agrees with that sentiment. Not by a long shot. And again, this isn't to say Tagovailoa won't get his needed medical clearance, shine at his proposed April throwing session and rekindle the spark needed to see him drafted inside the top five picks. This situation is pretty fluid and it's sure to twist and turn as more clarity from Tagovailoa's recovery from a devastating hip injury in November becomes apparent.
But while Tagovailoa's landing spot isn't as obvious as we seemed to once think, there is a pretty clear underlying story here to be addressed. The biggest development of the week is that the Tagovailoa camp's desire would be to play in Miami. It feels like an obvious fit, right? Tagovailoa's native state of Hawaii is known for its beautiful beaches and warm weather. It’s easy marketing to parlay into his rookie NFL contract and build upon his status as a collegiate star, especially when the primary alternative is buried in the midwestern heart of the country; about as far away from warm, sunny beaches as you can possibly get.
Even in reported leaks of player meetings, such as the one by the Sun Sentinel's Safid Deen, there is some visible posturing from an inside source to align Tagovailoa to the Dolphins despite some negativity.
“No one was excited,” Deen's source said when discussing Miami's meeting with Tagovailoa this past week at the combine. “[The Dolphins] didn’t give any indication of ‘he’s their guy.’ [Tagovailoa] felt weird, like, 'Is this a joke?'"
If that were the expectation coming into team meetings, there was a clear disconnect between expectations and reality regarding player meetings. But it is Deen's last quote from that report that serves as a tell to where this information may coming from:
“It doesn’t change how [Tagovailoa] feels about Miami," the source said. "Miami is the place for him.”
Ah! A clue.
With Deen's reported source reflecting the observation of Tagovailoa's desired destination, it certainly reads like a blurb from someone within the Tagovailoa camp. Why would anyone inside the Dolphins camp make such a claim regarding where he best fits? It gives the impression that whoever is talking is coming from the player's side of the fence, not the team's.
Direct quotes regarding comments and exchanges between players and team representatives at the combine are pretty uncommon and extend beyond the standard smokescreen or misdirection play through teams and the media.
The impression leaving Indianapolis? The Tagovailoa camp wants to be in Miami. That's not necessarily breaking news, given that Tagovailoa's father saying during Super Bowl week that he hoped Miami drafted his son.
“We love it. Miami is a beautiful place," Galu Tagovailoa told Rich Eisen. "We like it, and I mean, hopefully, in the future, it’ll be nice too, if things do work out.”
As the Sun Sentinel's source stated, "Miami is the place for him."
But is Tagovailoa the quarterback for Miami? That answer isn't clear walking out of Indianapolis, which means the "Tank For Tua" campaign is officially buried, even if the final outcome includes Tagovailoa in South Florida with the Dolphins where it seems he hopes to be. How poetic is it that after 12 months of Miami being painted as being desperate for Tagovailoa’s services, it appears as though now — two months out from the draft — it is the Tagovailoa camp that's making overtures to the Dolphins instead.