With three weeks remaining before the NFL Draft answers all questions, the Tua War — with Team Tua, especially his agent Leigh Steinberg and his mentor Trent Dilfer, against the various forces who are determined to label the former Alabama quarterback as an untenable risk, a fragile if not downright damaged commodity whose undeniable upside is in fact a high stakes gamble.
The rhetoric has reached such a level that former NFL general manager Mike Lombardi said that Tagovailoa had been “flunked” on physicals by two NFL teams, prompting vigorous denials by Steinberg. Rex Ryan, back in the batter’s box on ESPN less than a week after referring to Amari Cooper with a derogatory scatological insult — got to keep that content flowing after all — stated that taking Tua would constitute “the biggest gamble in NFL Draft history.”
Lombardi also said that Tagovailoa had “broken his wrist twice,” presumably in the spring of 2018 and that this has somehow gone unnoticed even though Tua was the most scrutinized athlete in Alabama football history and no sneeze or sniffle went undocumented by 20 reporters or more watching his every step. No, Alabama didn’t release x-rays to the media — HIPPA restrictions are real — but specifics also matter when speaking about injuries. Was it a wrist or a navicular bone or a finger? Was there one medical procedure followed by a second related operation on the same injury? At any rate, the dislocated hip would be a much bigger issue and that seems to have met medical scrutiny.
The interesting question is why has there been such a sudden flood of Tua talk spontaneously erupting like a volcano. Why have the sources suddenly sprung such a flood of information. Why have we suddenly been hearing all about how much the Miami franchise loves Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert? Wouldn’t there be some risk involved there, perhaps not injury, but upside?
Is this information coming from a team that wants to push Tagovailoa down to a position where he would be reachable, either with that team’s current pick or a less-costly trade than it would take to move ahead of Miami at No. 5? One can almost sense the hoodie-shrouded figure of Bill Belichick in the shadows, his master plot of finding a new Tom Brady slowly taking form. On the other hand, maybe Miami has been set on Tua all along and is simply trying to bluff any teams that might be pondering a leapfrog move, hurdling the Dolphins to take Tua for themselves. .
There’s no telling how it affects Tua and the Tagovailoa family. No one is contending that he doesn’t have an injury history. What’s more, the COVID-19 lockdown came at a time when he needed to be working out for as many teams as possible. In the end, he has no real control of where he will end up, although he may or may not have some private assurances.
Some of the chatter is the grinding of the comment mill, grinding grist for 100 talk shows on the wrestling model. The good guy cuts his promo, the bad guy responds and the bigger the buildup, the more people watch the main event. There was never any reason to worry about audiences in Alabama, starved to the bone for football content and ready to watch classic Puppy Bowls from the past if they must. There is also a mystique around Tua, just as there was for his entire college career.
The air will be thick with speculation for three more weeks, then one set of questions will be answered and a whole new one will begin, as Tua seeks to validate his selection and some of the same commenters will be quick to judge him as a “bust” in Year One. It may take five years or more to know whether the “gamble,” if that’s what it is, pays off. Reputations will be made, or broken but let’s hope Tua, whatever his destination, finds an NFL home that gives him a fighting chance.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @cecilhurt