After a pair of diagnosed concussions that landed him in the NFL’s protocol and sidelined him for five games in the 2022 season, Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa on Wednesday acknowledged he considered retiring from the NFL “for a time.” But after consulting with several medical officials and receiving assurances, he is confident in his short-term and long-term health.
“I considered it for a time,” Tagovailoa said in his first news conference since Christmas Day, “having sat down with my family, having sat down with my wife and having those kinds of conversations. But really, it would be hard for me to walk away from this game with how old I am, with my son. I always dreamed of playing as long as I could to where my son knew what he was watching his dad do.
“It’s my health. It’s my body. I feel like this is what’s best for me and my family. I love the game of football. If I didn’t, I would walk away a long time ago.”
Despite a breakout season in which he led the NFL in passer rating, Tagovailoa was diagnosed with two concussions, the second of which kept him out of the final three games, including the Dolphins’ season-ending loss to the Buffalo Bills in the wild-card round. Tagovailoa’s second stint lasted 37 days in a deliberate approach to bringing him back. In a season-ending news conference in January, general manager Chris Grier said medical professionals have said Tagovailoa is not more prone to concussions.
“At any point, whenever the team — [head coach] Mike [McDaniel] or Grier — would have approached me and asked if I were ready, there is no question and no doubt in my mind that I would have stepped up to the plate and answered the call,” Tagovailoa said.
Tagovailoa, 25, said he has been told chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the brain disease associated with repeated traumatic head injuries, is not a concern for him. “It’s only when you’re constantly hitting your head against something,” he said. “I think that tailors more towards linebackers, O-linemen, D-linemen, guys who are constantly going at it. So, that also played into the factor of my decision-making and wanting to come back and play.”
This offseason, Tagovailoa has been taking on jiu-jitsu to work on the way he falls and avoid future head injuries.
“We use crash pads to land on first with trying to fall,” he said. “Obviously with tucking your chin, that was one of the deals. But it went a lot more into the technique of how to disperse your energy when you fall, the posture you want to be in. And if you’re not presented with that posture, what are other things that you can do to help you disperse the energy when you fall. …
“I’ve been thrown airborne. I’ve been put in many uncomfortable positions for me to learn how to fall and try to react throughout those positions.”
Tagovailoa said that in addition to his jiu jitsu work, his offseason training has consisted of strengthening his body to last the rigors of an NFL season. Since entering the NFL as the No. 5 overall pick in the 2020 Draft, Tagovailoa has missed 10 games because of injury.
“All of that has been taken into consideration and I’ve been doing a lot more to try to help myself sustain a season,” he said.
Despite the injury questions surrounding Tagovailoa, the Dolphins have eschewed pursuing some of the high-profile quarterbacks that have been available this offseason, such as Aaron Rodgers and Lamar Jackson. The team picked up his fifth-year option in March, keeping Tagovailoa under contract through the 2024 season.
At a predraft news conference earlier Wednesday, Grier affirmed the team’s commitment to Tagoavailoa, who is also eligible for a contract extension this offseason.
“We always hope that Tua will be here successful long-term with us,” he said. “… Everyone felt comfortable with him health-wise.”
With a roster perceived as one of the league’s best, the Dolphins’ chances of pursuing a Super Bowl in 2023 will in part hinge on the availability of Tagovailoa. On the field, he’s entering his first offseason without having to learn a new offensive scheme, a luxury he hasn’t had dating to high school.
“It’s been a lot better of an offseason,” Tagovailoa said, “knowing that I don’t have to learn a new system. I don’t have to learn new formations, new motions, new snap points, new cadences. It’s good to know that I already have a year under my belt with the offense. There are always going to be nuances, but it’s not like a drastic change.
“This is really good. This is good because of the guys that we have as well that have been with us last year in the same system. We’re all really, really excited to get things going.”
Story by Daniel Oyefusi, Miami Herald