Cote: Dolphins, quit nickel-and-diming and give Tua the major-money deal NFL QB market demands

David Santiago/dsantiago@miamiherald.com

It probably figures that the Miami Dolphins are playing contractual hardball with their rising-star quarterback. It is in keeping with what Tua Tagovailoa has endured in the rough terrain of his early NFL career -- what his team has put him through.

For starters, a rough birth, this career, one born in a 2020 draft enveloped by a dawning pandemic. The Fins select Tagovailoa fifth overall, to an immediate national chorus that they should-a taken Justin Herbert instead.

Before long Dolphins owner Stephen Ross makes obvious his adoration for and interest in Deshaun Watson before losing him to the Cleveland Browns to mercifully end the awkwardness that caused Tua.

Except the very next year Ross turns his sights on signing Tom Brady to replace his young QB. The problem there? Brady was still under contract with Tampa Bay and Miami got busted for tampering and forfeited a first round draft pick.

“Do you feel wanted?” Tua was asked around that time.

Excruciating pause.

“Well, I don’t not feel wanted,” he says.

Meantime the quarterback is beset by concussion issues and has yet to play a full season.

Then gloom lifts, the sun shines.

Jaylen Waddle is drafted, Tyreek Hill arrives in a trade, and a concussion-free Tua plays all 17 games, leads the league in passing yards and makes his first Pro Bowl. The quarterback Ross tried to replace, twice, had finally blossomed as the star that general manager Chris Grier thought he’d be and coach Mike McDaniel prayed he’d be.

To the present, the summer of ‘24, and the club once again is disrespecting its young, just-turned-26 QB by taking forever to enrich Tua with his first mega-money contract.

The other top QBs fom his draft -- Joe Burrow, Herbert and Jaylen Hurts -- all have already gotten their reward, each signing contract extensions worth between $55 million (Burrow) and $51 million per year. Those deals also typically include between 75 and 80 percent of the total in guaranteed money.

That is the going rate for a top QB you believe in, folks. The market says so. Heck, Jared Goff just got a $53M-per deal from Detroit.

Grier said re-signing Tagovailoa was his “priority,” but the wingtips are dragging.

Tua’s camp understandably wants a deal in that $50M club. We hear the Dolphins are trying to cheap him down to mid-40s with incentives he’d have to meet to get to where he wants to be.

The Dolphins just lavished a three-year, $87.5 million extension on Waddle. Now Hill’s camp is squawking for a raise to reflect the record deal Minnesota just gave Justin Jefferson.

Not easy being Grier as NFL salaries skyrocket.

But on that priority list, your most important position had better be No. 1. Doing right by Tua and making him happy needs to be your emphasis.

Right now, clearly, he is not happy. It’s why he showed up to this week’s mandatory minicamp but as a statement is not participating fully.

In a media availability Tuesday his dissatisfaction was evident.

“I mean, I’m not blind to people that are in my position that are getting paid,” he said. “The market is the market.”

Tua was asked if it is difficult to separate the football from the business side.

“Yeah, 100 percent. 100 percent,” he said, candidly -- surprisingly, I thought. “I just want to get something done. I just want to get something done.”

He was asked for a word to describe how he feels.

“Probably antsy,” he said.

Hill said this about his QB this week, and I’d echo every word: “Tua should’ve been paid [by now]. Tua is supposed to be up there. He’s getting better each year and how he’s carrying this offense, it’s crazy. He’s going to continue to get better. I feel like when you get a new contract, they are not paying you for what you did. It’s almost like an investment of what you’re going to do in the future.”

The Miami Dolphins spent two years trying to replace the man they’d drafted fifth overall, then waiting for him to be healthy and prove himself.

He’s done that. Now make an investment in the quarterback you’d wrongly doubted.

Pay the man.

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