Tua Tagovailoa Talks Dolphins Future, USAA, NFL Draft and More in B/R Exclusive

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistFebruary 24, 2021

Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (1) looks to pass on the run in the first half of an NFL football game against the Buffalo Bills, Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021, in Orchard Park, N.Y. (AP Photo/John Munson)
John Munson/Associated Press

NFL teams may want to take note. 

According to Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, one of the potential first-round quarterbacks available in the 2021 NFL draft is trying to follow a path that leads to seven Super Bowl rings.

"I think he's going to be more than fine when he enters the league," Tagovailoa said of his former Alabama teammate Mac Jones during an interview with Bleacher Report. "He's a very smart quarterback; he's sneaky athletic. I think he emulates his game after someone like Tom Brady. While I was at Alabama, it looked like he kind of dressed a little like Tom ... For him to look up to someone like Tom Brady, that's not bad at all."

Jones led Alabama to a College Football Playoff national championship and was a Heisman Trophy finalist in his one full season as a college starter. He is one of five quarterbacks who could realistically go in the first round alongside Clemson's Trevor Lawrence, Ohio State's Justin Fields, BYU's Zach Wilson and North Dakota State's Trey Lance.

While the two Alabama quarterbacks are being compared now more than ever after Albert Breer of The MMQB reported wide receiver DeVonta Smith was "bold and definitive" about picking Jones over Tagovailoa, that hasn't stopped the latter from reaching out and offering some advice.

Tagovailoa did not reveal what he specifically told Jones but said he was there to answer any questions the prospect had about the NFL and draft process.

Jones is not the only person the Dolphins quarterback connected with this offseason.

Tagovailoa teamed up with USAA and virtually met up with Kerry Smith after the military veteran was selected as one of the five grand prize winners of the Salute to Service Sweepstakes. Smith is a Navy veteran who worked on radar operations and navigation while based in Virginia Beach.

Smith got the opportunity to meet and talk with Tagovailoa as part of a prize package that also included a television, sound system, gaming system, gift cards and more.

"I'm really happy that I got a chance to join USAA," Tagovailoa said. "I think it's awesome that Kerry won the USAA Salute to Service sweepstakes because I had a great time learning and talking to him about his service in the Navy. I enjoy meeting with our military veterans."

Tagovailoa said he was "honored" to participate and explained having multiple family members who are in the military provides "a different kind of appreciation" for veterans.

Connecting with the community is nothing new for the 22-year-old, who is the chairman of the Tua Foundation that focuses on charitable efforts in the South Florida, Alabama and Hawaii areas. Tagovailoa also established a $300,000 scholarship endowment to Saint Louis School in Hawaii, which is where he went to school before Alabama.

The Tua Foundation recently awarded three grants of $16,667 (totaling $50,000) to the Police Athletic League of North Miami, Big Oak Ranch in Alabama and the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame in Hawaii.

Tagovailoa explained how an early connection with fellow Hawaiian football player Manti Te'o helped pave the way for his own ability to give back to the communities that helped him on his path to the NFL:

"It's very important to me because growing up I've seen what we have on the islands and I've also seen what we didn't have. I've also seen guys who are able to give back and the joy that they brought to someone like me and the joy you can see everyone else having. It was awesome when Manti had his camp in Hawaii and I got to go. When you meet someone like that, it's cool when you're at such a young age. Now that I'm grown up, I'm able to do the same and give back to my community and the community that helped shape me into who I am today. And that's in Hawaii, that's Alabama, that's also here in Miami."

Like Te'o, Tagovailoa became a household name during his collegiate career.

He capped the 2017 season with the Crimson Tide by replacing Jalen Hurts in the CFP national championship game and leading Alabama back from a 13-0 halftime deficit to beat Georgia in overtime with a game-winning touchdown strike to Smith.

Miami selected him with the No. 5 overall pick of the 2020 NFL draft following a dominant collegiate career even though he was coming off a significant hip injury that required surgery.

Tagovailoa appeared in 10 games as a rookie for the Dolphins and completed 64.1 percent of his passes for 1,814 yards, 11 touchdowns and five interceptions while adding three scores on the ground. He showed flashes of his potential but, as many rookies do, also struggled with consistency.

The Dolphins went from 5-11 in 2019 to 10-6 in 2020, and head coach Brian Flores appears to be building a winner in the AFC East. While Miami has not won a playoff game since the 2000 campaign, Tagovailoa said the coach is taking a day-by-day approach rather than trying to turn things around all at once.

"What Flo stresses every time," the quarterback said. "He preaches just getting better each day. For me, that's what it is. We just need to get better with what we feel we need to get better at as individuals."

The Alabama product appeared to be following that advice when he posted pictures from a recent workout with the caption "work." He seems to have added strength during his first healthy offseason of his NFL career after using much of last offseason to recover from his hip injury.

Tua. T 🇦🇸 @Tua

Work 🚂 https://t.co/lZwElQTIy1

It is easy to speculate that Tagovailoa may be motivated by recent rumors.

After all, ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported in January that Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson would consider going to the Dolphins if he is traded. Adam H. Beasley of the Miami Herald reported Miami was a "front-runner" to land Watson if the three-time Pro Bowler's relationship with the Texans cannot be salvaged.

Whether Watson, who led the league with 4,823 passing yards in 2020 and is just 25 years old, is traded is the biggest storyline of the offseason.

Miami seems like a logical trading partner for Houston because it could offer Tagovailoa as a potential building block to replace Watson, as well as draft capital that includes the Nos. 3 and 18 picks in the 2021 draft.

Despite the speculation, Tagovailoa said he is motivated by something else.

"The motivating factor for me is just being able to get better from year one to year two," he said. "I just want to be a better version of myself. I wasn't satisfied with what I did last year. There's always more that I can do; I'm just trying to get better to help our team win some games next year."

That is surely exactly what Dolphins fans want to hear.


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