ROLL PHINS?

Alabama QB Tago­v­ailoa likely high on Dol­phins’ wish list de­spite in­jury

Orlando Sentinel - - SPORTS TUESDAY - By Safid Deen

In­jured Alabama stand­out quar­ter­back Tua Tago­v­ailoa is en­ter­ing the 2020 NFL draft, and be­lieves he could re­turn from his hip in­jury to play as a rookie next sea­son.

Tago­v­ailoa an­nounced his in­ten­tion to leave Alabama af­ter three sea­sons dur­ing a news con­fer­ence Mon­day af­ter­noon along­side coach Nick Sa­ban, of­fi­cially be­com­ing one of the draft’s top quar­ter­back prospects de­spite his re­cent hip in­jury.

Now, NFL teams like the Mi­ami Dol­phins will await up­dates on Tago­v­ailoa’s re­cov­ery process while tabling the idea of se­lect­ing him in the draft, which be­gins on April 23 in Las Ve­gas.

“It pretty much boils down to one thing: faith,” Tago­v­ailoa said. “It boils down to that. Com­ing from a fam­ily that has a lot of it, I’m def­i­nitely will­ing to take that chal­lenge.”

In­stead of re­turn­ing to school, Tago­v­ailoa will test the NFL wa­ters where his po­ten­tial draft sta­tus is rel­a­tively dif­fi­cult to pre­dict be­cause of the hip in­jury that fur­ther raises con­cerns about his dura­bil­ity.

Tago­v­ailoa was in con­sid­er­a­tion with LSU quar­ter­back and Heis­man Tro­phy win­ner Joe Bur­row for the No. 1 pick be­fore he suf­fered the in­jury on Nov. 16. He had surgery two days later in Hous­ton.

Tago­v­ailoa, who had his hip eval­u­ated in New York last week­end, said doc­tors will be able to gauge how his re­cov­ery process has come along at the three- or four-month mark, which would be Fe­bru­ary or March.

Tago­v­ailoa may not be healthy enough to par­tic­i­pate at the NFL scout­ing com­bine, which be­gins Fe­bru­ary 23. But he is hope­ful about hav­ing a pro day work­out at Alabama in March be­fore the draft.

“I’m op­ti­mistic that I’ll be able to play this up­com­ing sea­son,” Tago­v­ailoa said, “but I think for me right now, I’m more so wor­ried

about get­ting bet­ter as soon as pos­si­ble and see what I can do — if I can do a pro day or if I can’t do a pro day. And then, it’s re­ally all de­pen­dent on what the doc­tors have to say to the teams.”

Tago­v­ailoa light­heart­edly said he spoke with “too many” NFL gen­eral man­agers dur­ing the lead up to his an­nounce­ment, and shared their over­ly­ing mes­sage to him.

“It’s a unique sit­u­a­tion for sure,” Tago­v­ailoa said. “With my hip, a lot of the guys, the gen­eral man­agers, the own­ers I’ve got, talked to have said the same thing. They kinda look at this as a knee in­jury although it’s not, in a way that ‘are we go­ing to take a chance on this guy? Or would he be able to pos­si­bly do a pro day be­fore the draft and what not?’

“Re­ally, the big­gest thing they want to see is if [I] can move and be back to how [I was] play­ing prior to the in­jury,” he added.

Tago­v­ailoa did not have a loss-of-value in­sur­ance pol­icy, which could have made up some of the dif­fer­ence in his rookie salary. Now, Tago­v­ailoa hopes en­ter­ing the draft pays off.

If Tago­v­ailoa is a top-five draft pick, his rookie con­tract could be val­ued around $41.3 mil­lion at No. 1, $39.4 mil­lion at No. 2, $38.2 mil­lion at No. 3, $36.8 mil­lion at No. 4, and $34.4 mil­lion at No. 5, which is where the Dol­phins will be se­lect­ing.

De­spite his in­jury, most NFL draft an­a­lysts still have the Dol­phins se­lect­ing Tago­v­ailoa with their top pick.

Po­ten­tial rookie salary pro­jec­tions, ac­cord­ing to Over­The­Cap.com, drop sig­nif­i­cantly as the first round con­tin­ues — the No. 10 pick is val­ued around $22 mil­lion, No. 15 at $16.7 mil­lion, No. 20 at $14.5 mil­lion, No. 25 $13.5 mil­lion, and the last pick in the first round at $11.5 mil­lion.

The Dol­phins will likely get more back­ground in­for­ma­tion on Tago­v­ailoa’s in­jured hip dur­ing the NFL scout­ing com­bine in Fe­bru­ary, where he will be eval­u­ated by NFL doc­tors and in­for­ma­tion from those eval­u­a­tions will be com­mu­ni­cated to all 32 NFL teams.

Hope­fully by then, teams will be able to have a firmer timetable for Tago­v­ailoa’s re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion process, and when he will be able to be­gin par­tic­i­pat­ing in foot­ball ac­tiv­i­ties. But a team that drafts him could con­sider al­low­ing Tago­v­ailoa to re­cover through the 2020 sea­son be­fore he plays in the NFL.

Along with ex­am­in­ing Tago­v­ailoa’s health and whether to draft him, the Dol­phins must also con­sider the ex­pected com­pe­ti­tion from other NFL teams con­sid­er­ing him.

The Los An­ge­les Charg­ers at No. 6, the Carolina Pan­thers at No. 7 and the Jack­sonville Jaguars at No. 9 could head­line that group among top 10 picks alone.

The Dol­phins must work dur­ing the Se­nior Bowl, com­bine, and league meet­ings in March to iden­tify teams that could jump ahead of them in the draft or­der. They could also gauge whether teams are shy­ing away from Tago­v­ailoa and con­sider trad­ing down from No. 5 to land him with a later pick.

With the emer­gence of vet­eran quar­ter­back Ryan Fitz­patrick, the Dol­phins could af­ford for Tago­v­ailoa to sit out the sea­son.

Be­fore Tago­v­ailoa an­nounced his de­ci­sion, Dol­phins owner Steve Ross, vice chair­man, pres­i­dent and CEO Tom Garfinkel and gen­eral man­ager Chris Grier were in at­ten­dance for the Alabama-Michi­gan bowl game in Or­lando where they stood sev­eral feet away from Tago­v­ailoa be­fore kick­off.

Ross, the largest donor to the Univer­sity of Michi­gan, giv­ing $378 mil­lion to his alma mater, and Garfinkel, also a Michi­gan alum, en­joyed the game, while Grier likely used the ex­pe­ri­ence to eval­u­ate other play­ers in the bowl game while gath­er­ing in­for­ma­tion on Tago­v­ailoa.

The Dol­phins are well un­der­way with their ex­ten­sive re­build­ing process un­der Grier and coach Brian Flores, fin­ish­ing their first year to­gether with a 5-11 record this past sea­son and en­ter­ing the off­sea­son with 14 picks in the draft and more than $100 mil­lion to use in free agency.

Could Tua be a part of the Dol­phins’ fu­ture?

“I’m con­tent with the de­ci­sion I’ve made,” he said. “It’s more of what’s next that I’m think­ing about in this process.”

VASHA HUNT/AP

Alabama quar­ter­back Tua Tago­v­ailoa an­nounces his in­ten­tions to de­clare for the 2020 NFL draft on Mon­day in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

KEVIN C. COX/GETTY

Tua Tago­v­ailoa an­nounced he would leave Alabama for the NFL draft.

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