Tua Tagovailoa has been mostly absent from Dolphins activities as Miami QB looks for big next contract

May 17, 2024

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The Miami Dolphins will begin team drills on Monday as part of their voluntary organized team activities, and it’s unclear whether starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa will be a part of them.

Tagovailoa has been absent for the large majority of voluntary offseason work since the Dolphins reported back April 15, sources close to the situation told CBS Sports. That is in stark contrast to his first four seasons in the league, when Tagovailoa was present for most of the voluntary work.

Sources believe his absence is related to his contract status. Tagovailoa, the fifth overall selection in the 2020 NFL Draft, is currently set to play the 2024 season on his fifth-year option, worth $23.171 million. The Alabama alumnus has hoped for a long-term contract extension with the Dolphins, but one has not materialized to date.

The going rate for today’s NFL franchise quarterbacks is around the $50 million per year mark. Tagovailoa is scheduled to make less than half that in 2024 with no security beyond this season.

Last year Tagovailoa played in all 17 games, a career-first. He made his first Pro Bowl after passing for a career-high 4,624 yards and started in his first playoff game, a 26-7 loss to Kansas City in frigid Arrowhead. His 14 interceptions were tied for fourth-most in the league with Patrick Mahomes and Trevor Lawrence.

“Like we said, we wouldn’t talk throughout the season in terms of contract stuff, but we’ve stayed in touch with his agent and had good conversations throughout the year,” Dolphins general manager Chris Grier told reporters in January. “We never talk about money or anything, just good conversations about where he is and the relationship with (head coach) Mike (McDaniel) and the team here and everything he’s done. So the goal is to have him here long-term playing at a high level. That’s always the goal and we’ll continue to communicate with him through the offseason here.”

Tagovailoa just completed his four-year, $30.275 million rookie contract. Last March, the Dolphins quickly picked up his fifth-year option, locking him into a 2024 deal worth $23.171 million in guaranteed money. But there were — and possibly still are — questions about his durability.

During his final season at Alabama in 2019, he had surgery on his right ankle and then missed the end of the season with a hip injury. He missed a game in each of his first two seasons with hand injuries, and he went on short-term injured reserve his second year with a rib injury. In 2022, he suffered at least two concussions that prompted changes to the league’s concussion protocol.

But last offseason he practiced jiu-jitsu to help him learn how to protect himself better when falling to the ground. It clearly paid off for Tagovailoa, who played in every game of the season for the first time in his career.

To be sure, the Dolphins don’t have to reach a deal with Tagovailoa this offseason. They have the franchise tag in 2025 at their disposal, though it’s projected to cost more than $40 million for the 2025 season.

Like many players before him, Tagovailoa is seemingly using his absence from voluntary work as leverage for a new deal. He did show up to the facilities early during offseason work, and the team captured him on the field on April 19. But how long he’s willing to stay away is unclear. Should this stretch into training camp, Tagovailoa would be subject to a $40,000 fine for every day he’s absent, but a league source indicated the Dolphins could reduce the fine or waive it entirely.

An argument for paying Tagovailoa would be to reduce his current cap hit so Miami could have more room to add pieces and become a championship contender.

The Dolphins were up against the cap in the offseason. They made bargain signings while losing quality players, including defensive tackle Christian Wilkins ($110 million to the Raiders) and guard Robert Hunt ($100 million to the Panthers).

The Dolphins picked up the fifth-year options for Jaelan Phillips and Jaylen Waddle this offseason, with a need to extend one or both of those players in the 2025 offseason. Safety Jevon Holland is in the final year of his rookie deal and is not a player the Dolphins plan to lose. Holland was a second-round pick so Miami doesn’t have the fifth-year option for him, and they can only use the franchise tag on one player each year.

But teams are sometimes wary of making too many signings before locking in their quarterback, fearing the message it could send to the locker room. And that could impact timing for the Dolphins, too.

Quarterback contracts are typically judged by average annual value and guaranteed money. Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts broke the $50 million per year threshold last summer, which was then topped by Lamar Jackson and then topped again by Justin Herbert, who was drafted one pick after Tagovailoa in 2020.

Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow sits atop the quarterback salary rankings with a five-year, $275 million contract with $219 million in guarantees. The Chiefs restructured Patrick Mahomes’s unique contract last fall to pay him a then-record $210.6 million over a four-year span.

And just last week, the Lions inked Jared Goff to a four-year, $212 million extension with $170 million in guarantees.

Tagovailoa is part of a trio of quarterbacks that could potentially get a new deal this offseason. Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott is entering the final year of his contract, and Dallas does not have the ability to franchise tag him. And the Jaguars are optimistic a long-term deal will be reached with 2021 No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence before the start of the season.