MIAMI – Tua Tagovailoa has been dogged for months by uncertainty, upheaval and close calls, from a career-threatening injury to an encounter with a tornado.
Now he knows where he'll play next. He still doesn't know when.
The Miami Dolphins are willing to wait — perhaps even until 2021.
They took the Alabama quarterback with the fifth overall pick in the NFL draft, optimistic he'll fully recover from a hip injury that ended his college career in mid-November. He says doctors have indicated he's on schedule for a return in 2020.
“I’ve been really encouraged to say that I’m able to play if need be,” Tagovailoa said.
But the Dolphins don't need for him to rush back, especially if his hip isn't yet 100%. Returning starter Ryan Fitzpatrick is 37 and ideally suited for the role of caretaker quarterback and mentor to the rookie.
With the coronavirus pandemic, it's uncertain whether there will even be a 2020 NFL season. For now, Tagovailoa plans to begin bonding with new teammates by long distance.
“We’ve just got to hope and pray that everything works out, and that we can get back to spending time as a team,” he said. “I think for me, the most important thing is probably getting everyone’s phone number on the team and just creating relationships.”
For the rebuilding Dolphins, the pick is a huge investment: the highest they've used to draft a quarterback since taking Bob Griese in 1967.
General manager Chris Grier said the Dolphins are comfortable about Tagovailoa's health, despite a long injury history that includes at least four surgeries at Alabama. Grier declined to say whether Tagovailoa is expected to participate fully in workouts whenever they begin.
Grier wouldn't talk about the rookie challenging for a starting job this year, either.
“With the pandemic and all that’s going on, our doctors haven’t seen him,” Grier said. “We have a long way to go before we can say who’s doing what. We have to just get him and have a meeting first. I think it’s way too early to speculate on this year and how this is going to go.”
This offseason has been a long one for Tagovailoa, and not just because he hasn’t played a game since Nov. 16.
For one thing, he lost his car in a tornado that hit the Nashville, Tennessee, area last month.
“It was about 1 o’clock in the morning,” Tagovailoa told reporters shortly after being drafted Thursday night. “Sirens were going off and I was asleep. I ended up waking up to I guess warnings on my phone. Three or four minutes later, a tornado just swooped right over my complex, destroys my car and everything there. It was pretty bad.”
Tornadoes on March 3 killed 25 people in Middle Tennessee and damaged or destroyed hundreds of buildings. Tagovailoa was in Nashville to work out and rehabilitate his hip.
All in all, Tagovailoa said, it has been a stressful stretch, partly because he didn't know where he would be drafted.
“I went through that tornado; my car got destroyed," he said. "I’m going through rehab during that process. And then there’s a lot of uncertainty at the same time. There were just a lot of things piling up. This was probably the most difficult time for me in my life.”
After being drafted, however, the Hawaiian wore a grin — and a lei.
"A dream come true, man, to be able to have this opportunity," Tagovailoa said.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP_NFL
Follow Steven Wine on Twitter: http://twitter.com/Steve_Wine. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/steven-wine