2022 NFL Preview: Dolphins add Tyreek Hill, and it's all on Tua Tagovailoa now

·12-min read

The Miami Dolphins like winning the offseason. This year, the big splash was trading for star receiver Tyreek Hill. Maybe they hoped that move would help everyone forget about the controversial firing of coach Brian Flores, the racial discrimination lawsuit that came after, and the accusations that Dolphins owner Stephen Ross offered Flores $100,000 for every loss during the 2018 season.

And yet, the focus isn't on the fortunes spent to acquire Hill and offensive tackle Terron Armstead, or the handful of other signings to help them get back to the playoffs. The conversation always comes back to Tua Tagovailoa.

The Dolphins have a lot to feel good about. They improved an offensive line that needed it badly. Hill is one of the best receivers in the NFL. The defense is pretty good. It all seems set up for success. However, the Dolphins don't know how good their quarterback is.

Tagovailoa has been injured a lot and not great when he has played. He hasn't been bad either. But he mostly has been a safe, conservative game manager — with a horrible offensive line last season that shares some blame — who hasn't shown many signs of being special. That might be fine for a mid-round pick, but Tagovailoa was the fifth overall pick, taken ahead of Justin Herbert in what looks like a generational draft mistake through two seasons.

Offseason memes are mostly nonsense, and for the most part the instantly viral clip of Tagovailoa underthrowing Hill was overblown.

Even if too much was made of that clip, it spoke to the Dolphins' issue. They just traded a lot for Hill, signed him to a four-year, $120 million contract, and they are pairing him with a quarterback who probably can't take advantage of him as a deep threat. Perhaps Hill could be like Deebo Samuel was for Mike McDaniel in San Francisco, a yards-after-catch beast who just needs to get the ball from his quarterback in space and make plays. Hill is an amazing talent who was a dominant force with the Kansas City Chiefs. He's one of the fastest players in NFL history and he'll likely find a way to put up good numbers. But it's also possible the Dolphins just invested heavily in a receiver when they don't have a quarterback who truly matches his skill set.

McDaniel, who replaces Flores as the Dolphins new head coach, will be a big key to Tagovailoa's development. McDaniel is considered a creative, young offensive mind. Coming from the Kyle Shanahan tree, he'll have a running game that will take pressure off his quarterback. McDaniel will give weapons like Hill, Jaylen Waddle and Mike Gesicki chances to make plays. The team invested in the offensive line to protect Tagovailoa. The defense, led by an elite secondary, will be good enough that the offense won't be under undue pressure.

Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (1) and Tyreek Hill (10) will be teaming up this season. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (1) and Tyreek Hill (10) will be teaming up this season. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

That means there aren't many excuses left for Tagovailoa. It's a critical season, especially with a decision on his fifth-year option coming next offseason.

The Dolphins have had a strange past year. They became the first team ever to have a seven-game losing streak and a seven-game winning streak in the same season. The winning streak came second and got the Dolphins briefly back into playoff contention, so that seemed like a positive way to enter the offseason. Then came the Flores controversy, which is still hanging over the franchise.

The Dolphins would love something to be excited about, aside from another big offseason signing. They haven't won a playoff game since Dec. 30, 2000. Controversy seems to follow the team around. It probably won't start to turn until they figure out the quarterback position, something they've been trying to solve since Dan Marino retired. Maybe Tagovailoa will show this season that he's the answer. It's probably now or never for him.

(Yahoo Sports graphics by Amber Matsumoto)
(Yahoo Sports graphics by Amber Matsumoto)

Tyreek Hill didn't come cheap. The Dolphins traded five picks to the Chiefs: first-, second- and fourth-round picks in 2022 and a fourth- and sixth-round pick in 2023. Then they signed Hill to a four-year, $120 million deal, the largest per-year deal for a receiver in NFL history. The trade was a reason Miami didn't have a selection in the first 100 picks of this year's draft, and that hurt. But Hill is a rare talent and worth the picks. The Dolphins spent to fix what might have been the worst offensive line in the NFL last season. Left tackle Terron Armstead got a five-year, $75 million deal to leave the New Orleans Saints. Former Dallas Cowboys guard Conner Williams got a two-year, $14 million deal. It looks like he'll play center in Miami. The Dolphins also signed receiver Cedrick Wilson from the Cowboys, pass rusher Melvin Ingram and added running backs Chase Edmonds, Raheem Mostert and Sony Michel. The Dolphins have never been shy about spending money in the offseason. They also retained pass rusher Emmanuel Ogbah and tight end Mike Gesicki, the latter on a franchise tag, which were important moves. The Dolphins didn't get much in the draft, though Georgia linebacker Channing Tindall might contribute right away. It wasn't a cheap offseason but the Dolphins added some impact players.

GRADE: A-minus

(Yahoo Sports graphic by Amber Matsumoto)
(Yahoo Sports graphic by Amber Matsumoto)

Signing Teddy Bridgewater to a one-year, $6.5 million contract appears to be more than a typical backup deal. With Tua Tagovailoa not yet establishing himself as a top-end starter and the Dolphins spending again in the offseason, signing Bridgewater seemed like a clear insurance policy against Tagovailoa struggling early in the season. It's also an acknowledgement that Tagovailoa hasn't been durable. Tagovailoa could still emerge as a good quarterback. He has just 21 NFL starts and has not been that bad (27 TDs, 15 INTs, 88.8 passer rating). He just hasn't yet been worth the fifth pick of the draft and he'll always be compared to Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert, the two star quarterbacks taken around him in the 2020 draft. Tagovailoa and Brian Flores reportedly didn't have a great relationship, which was one reason Flores was fired. The Dolphins being constantly linked to Deshaun Watson couldn't have helped him either. A coaching change and some support for Tagovailoa could be a big plus.

"We're going to have an extensive professional relationship, my man," new coach Mike McDaniel told Tagovailoa on FaceTime in a discussion that the Dolphins posted on Twitter. "One thing I know about you is you have the ambition to be great. My job is to coach you to get all of that greatness out of you. It's going to be fun, man."

(Yahoo Sports graphics by Amber Matsumoto)
(Yahoo Sports graphics by Amber Matsumoto)

The BetMGM odds for the Dolphins have them at 8.5 wins. That seems fair but I'd lean to the under. The Dolphins have a new coach, I'm not sure about Tua Tagovailoa or if he and Tyreek Hill will be a good fit, and I prefer two other teams in their division. Miami not making the playoffs is -165 odds. That's a steep number but I don't mind laying it. I highly doubt the Dolphins are winning the division, and AFC wild-card spots will be tough to come by.

(Yahoo Sports graphics by Amber Matsumoto)
(Yahoo Sports graphics by Amber Matsumoto)

From Yahoo's Scott Pianowski: "In most cases, you never want to say never in the fantasy game. It usually comes down to acquisition cost, not the players themselves. That said, I'm going to take a hard pass on Tyreek Hill this year.

"Hill could be on the back nine of his career and he's going to miss Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid in about 10 minutes. We still have no proof that Tua Tagovailoa is even an average quarterback. This is also not an offense built to throw proactively. And even when the Dolphins do throw, they have Jaylen Waddle ready to catch another hundred or so passes. There will be competition for the ball here among the wideouts; that was rarely the case in Kansas City.

"Receivers changing teams are generally dicey propositions, especially when the ADP remains optimistic. Count me out on Hill."

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(Yahoo Sports graphics by Amber Matsumoto)
(Yahoo Sports graphics by Amber Matsumoto)

Mike McDaniel was the 49ers' running game coordinator for four seasons and the offensive coordinator for one, and here are San Francisco's ranks in rushing yards those five seasons: 21st, 13th, second, 15th, seventh. Last season Miami was 30th in rushing yards and 31st in yards per rush. They need a boost in the running game and McDaniel should provide it. McDaniel is well-versed in the Kyle Shanahan rushing scheme, which borrows heavily from Mike Shanahan's scheme, and it is a proven success. Miami took a page from the Shanahans and brought in a lot of backs, but didn't invest a ton in any of them. Chase Edmonds is the breadwinner, on a two-year, $12.1 million deal. He's joined by Sony Michel (one year, $1.75 million), Raheem Mostert (one year, $2.125 million) and holdovers Myles Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed. That's a crowded backfield. Who leads the backfield could change from week to week — sorry, fantasy drafters — but every back who makes the roster should have some success. Miami's run game is going to get better right away, and that should help the entire offense.

(Yahoo Sports graphics by Amber Matsumoto)
(Yahoo Sports graphics by Amber Matsumoto)

What should we expect from Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle?

Waddle, somehow, is the second-fasted receiver on his team. That's what happens when you're teamed up with Hill, perhaps the fastest receiver in NFL history.

All the attention will be on Hill, who developed into one of the league's best receivers playing with Patrick Mahomes. He'll have a lot of pressure as the first $30 million per year receiver in NFL history, though he denied there's any pressure on him.

"I don’t blink, dawg. I don’t believe in pressure, dawg," Hill told the Miami media, according to the team's transcripts. "I make the pressure."

Hill's game will probably have to change, because Tua Tagovailoa isn't a great deep passer and there's a fair question about how he'll match up with Hill's talent. However, Hill was used more as an underneath receiver last season (15.4 percent of his targets were 20 yards or more, way down from 23.5 percent in 2020 according to PFF), and he's quite capable of thriving on yards after catch. That's mostly what Waddle did last season. Only 12 of his 138 targets (8.7 percent) was more than 20 yards last season according to PFF, which was tied for the fifth-lowest percentage among all receivers with 100 targets. Waddle made it work, setting an NFL rookie record with 104 receptions. He averaged just 9.8 yards per catch, which was surprisingly low for an explosive athlete like Waddle, but he'll have to thrive on underneath routes unless Tagovailoa improves as a deep passer. The same goes for Hill.

"Tua is one of the most accurate quarterbacks in the NFL, so just his ball placement, getting us the ball in space, perfect placement and us just utilizing our speed, utilizing our best asset," Hill said. "And that’s just being dangerous."

(Yahoo Sports graphics by Amber Matsumoto)
(Yahoo Sports graphics by Amber Matsumoto)

Mike McDaniel seems like a sharp offensive mind who will relate well to his players. If he's an instant hit at coach, maybe the Dolphins take off. Tua Tagovailoa has a new coach who has embraced him, a much better offensive line and Tyreek Hill. Maybe Tagovailoa will never be a star, but there's a path for him to become a much better quarterback than most expect from him at this point. The other pieces are in place. There are some offensive weapons. The running game will be better. The defense was already pretty good. It's hard to see Miami beating Buffalo for a division title, but a second-place finish, a wild-card spot and good feelings about the direction of the franchise going forward? That's possible.

(Yahoo Sports graphics by Amber Matsumoto)
(Yahoo Sports graphics by Amber Matsumoto)

When you lose seven games in a row in the NFL, there are some issues. Yes, the Dolphins rebounded last season, but we're not too far removed from Miami being 1-7 and looking like one of the worst teams in football. If Tua Tagovailoa is just an injury-prone quarterback who can't push the ball downfield and will never be more than a below-average quarterback, the Dolphins will be held back. The defense is good but not good enough to carry the Dolphins to the playoffs if the offense struggles. It's already a bit disappointing for Dolphins fans to have missed out on a huge opportunity to get a franchise quarterback, and it would be awful to reach the end of 2022 and realize the team needs to start all over at the position. And that's possible too.

(Yahoo Sports graphics by Amber Matsumoto)
(Yahoo Sports graphics by Amber Matsumoto)

There are things to like about the Dolphins. Adding Terron Armstead and Tyreek Hill to the offense might have a bigger impact than I'm giving credit for. Those are two blue-chip players. There are other talented players on both sides of the ball. I just don't feel comfortable putting Miami in the top half of the league with all their uncertainty. I like the Mike McDaniel hire, but who knows how that will go. I think Tua Tagovailoa has been buried prematurely, but he also hasn't done much to get anyone excited. There are still potential non-Tua issues like the right side of the offensive line. Maybe the Dolphins take a huge step forward, but I need to see it first. I think it'll be a mediocre season without a playoff berth.

(Yahoo Sports graphics by Amber Matsumoto)
(Yahoo Sports graphics by Amber Matsumoto)

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