NFL

Miami Dolphins: Year two of Tua, or the biggest move of 2021?

By Sports Desk March 22, 2021

What shaped up to be a year of enormous positivity ended in disappointment and a dilemma for the Miami Dolphins.

The Dolphins were 5-11 at the bottom of the AFC East in 2019 before turning their fortunes around to finish 10-6 last year. That was not quite enough to make the playoffs, though.

Victory over the Buffalo Bills in Week 17 would have clinched a postseason berth, as indeed would defeats for any of three AFC rivals. Every result went against Miami.

Worse than just being edged out of the postseason picture, they were beaten by 30 points in Buffalo as Tua Tagovailoa – the fifth overall pick supposed to be the Dolphins’ franchise quarterback – endured a dismal end to his rookie season.

The signs had been there prior to that desperate three-interception showing, which actually included a career-high 361 passing yards, but the costly defeat firmly formed Miami’s big offseason question: Do they need to make a move at QB?

There have been and continue to be interesting options, but the front office looks to be taking its time in making the right calls to turn this team into contenders.

Stats Perform data shows how far away they are right now.

Offense

Tagovailoa would likely have been given some respite in that fateful Bills game had backup Ryan Fitzpatrick not been ruled out after testing positive for coronavirus.

The Dolphins had turned to Fitzpatrick in Week 16 against the Las Vegas Raiders and he duly rescued a 26-25 comeback win, completing nine of 13 passes for 182 yards and a touchdown.

The change was evidence of coach Brian Flores’ faltering faith in Tagovailoa. The result was justification.

Among players to throw 200 attempts in 2020, only Washington pair Alex Smith and Dwayne Haskins Jr. trailed Tagovailoa’s 1,814 yards. Even when he put up big numbers in the Buffalo defeat, his 6.22 yards per attempt were 0.04 yards down on his extremely modest year average.

This plodding pace was the reason for Flores turning so often to Fitzpatrick, who was picked on eight of 267 passes (3.0 per cent) but gained 7.83 yards per attempt.

Neither quarterback was helped by the limited receiving options, with only wide receiver DeVante Parker (63 catches for 793 yards and four TDs) and tight end Mike Gesicki (53 catches for 703 yards and six TDs) offering any real quality in that sense.

The rushing offense was no better. Perhaps again partly due to a reluctance to trust Tagovailoa, they ran on 41.9 per cent of plays (14th-most in the league) but registered only 105.5 rushing yards per game (22nd-most).

Criticism of Tagovailoa was understandable, but the entire offense was shaky last year.

Defense

With the deficiencies on the other side of the ball, Miami’s defense had to be shoulder much of the burden in 2020. 

Although opponents racked up 251.5 passing yards per game, the Dolphins allowed just 315 points across the season, the fourth-fewest in the NFL.

The cornerback duo of Xavien Howard and Byron Jones were particularly effective. Howard had 10 interceptions after managing 12 across the first four years of his career.

Up front, Emmanuel Ogbah (9.0 sacks and 21 QB hits), Kyle Van Noy (6.0 sacks and 10 QB hits) and Shaq Lawson (4.0 sacks and 18 QB hits) were productive in pressuring the quarterback.

Firmly in the middle of the pack when it came to stopping the run, the Dolphins allowed 116.4 rushing yards per game, but theirs was a stingy defense that proved its upside by forcing a league-leading 29 total takeaways.

Offseason

Although the Dolphins have been busy in free agency already, their spending has been unexceptional.

Van Noy was released and re-joined the New England Patriots, with whom they swapped defensive linemen as Davon Godchaux and Adam Butler traded places.

Butler's contract with the Dolphins cost half as much as Godchaux's in New England, but the new acquisition had four sacks in 2020, more than the man he is replacing managed in his entire Miami career.

Those deals are indicative of what so far appears to be a cost-cutting one-in, one-out approach. Fitzpatrick left for the Washington Football Team, where he will collect $10million, while Jacoby Brissett – a new backup quarterback – arrived from the Indianapolis Colts on a contract worth $5m.

The biggest splash to date saw Will Fuller arrive after a career year catching Deshaun Watson passes, including eight touchdowns, in Houston.

The most significant development of the offseason is yet to play out, though, as the identity of the man throwing the ball to Fuller this year remains far from certain.

Fuller could serve as a pivotal boost to Tagovailoa's options and enable him to develop his game in year two, but the Dolphins also have the ability to put together a very enticing package for a prospective trade, as they possess the third and 18th picks in the first round of this year's draft.

Fuller’s wantaway former team-mate Watson is the most obvious possible target in a move that would change the complexion of the AFC.

The arrival of one of the league's elite quarterbacks could quickly turn Miami into contenders, but it would depend on the Texans taking back their own draft pick, sent to the Dolphins in return for Laremy Tunsil in 2019.

Whether they stick with Tagovailoa, make a blockbuster move for Watson or unexpectedly take one of the draft's top signal-callers, an intriguing offseason in Miami will be defined by a crucial decision at the game's most important position.

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    Juventus have completed the signing of highly rated Dusan Vlahovic from Fiorentina for a fee of €70million.

    The striker, who turned 22 on Friday, agreed to a four-and-a-half-year deal with the Bianconeri and passed a medical.

    Juve will pay the €70m fee over three financial years, plus additional costs of €11.6m. A further €10m will be due to Fiorentina should Vlahovic meet certain sporting objectives.

    Vlahovic is the joint-top scorer in Serie A this season with 17 goals from 21 appearances – a tally only matched by Lazio's Ciro Immobile.

    He has been linked with a host of top clubs across Europe after his impressive form over the past two seasons.

    Vlahovic joins Massimiliano Allegri's Juve team, who have often struggled to turn possession into goals this season, having scored just 34 times across 23 Serie A games.

    That means their attack is the 11th-best in the league, way behind leading scorers Inter (53), while Fiorentina have scored 41 times so far with Vlahovic on board.

    Serbia international Vlahovic, who joined La Viola from Partizan in 2018, has converted 28 big chances since the start of last season, more than any other player in Serie A.

    His tally of 21 goals during 2020-21 was the highest recorded by a Fiorentina player in a single campaign since Alberto Gilardino in 2008-09 (25).

    Vlahovic also netted 33 league goals in 2021; matching Cristiano Ronaldo’s record for the most scored in the Italian top-flight during a calendar year. 

    Last week, Fiorentina chief executive Joe Barone confirmed the club were open to selling Vlahovic, who subsequently missed Sunday's draw with Cagliari due to a positive COVID-19 test.

    Vlahovic's arrival in Turin may pave the way for Alvaro Morata to leave Juve, with Barcelona reportedly keen on signing the Spain international, who is on loan from Atletico Madrid.

  • Florence and the talent machine: Vlahovic and the players who left Fiorentina in big moves Florence and the talent machine: Vlahovic and the players who left Fiorentina in big moves

    Every league seems to have those teams that just produce talent on an apparently non-stop basis, before those players inevitably get picked off by the bigger boys.

    In Germany, you can't move for former Schalke or Stuttgart players. There's Lyon and Monaco in France, Athletic Bilbao and Valencia in Spain, Southampton and Aston Villa in England.

    In Italy, that team is probably Fiorentina, who are in the same position once again after La Viola sold star striker Dusan Vlahovic to Juventus in a €70million deal.

    Stats Perform takes a look at some of the biggest names in Italian football who made a name for themselves with the team from Tuscany, and what they went on to achieve in the game.

    Roberto Baggio

    Having begun his career at Vicenza, The Divine Ponytail's move to Fiorentina saw his star rise as he spent five impressive years in the purple shirt.

    However, after he helped Fiorentina to the 1990 UEFA Cup final, only to be defeated over two ill-tempered legs by their great rivals Juventus, salt was very much rubbed into the fans' wounds as the Bianconeri paid a then world-record fee to take Baggio.

    Reports claimed that fans hurled bricks, chains and Molotov cocktails at Fiorentina's headquarters, and for the two days after the transfer was announced, club president Flavio Pontello took shelter in the stadium, with 50 injuries and nine arrests recorded.

    Baggio would only improve his reputation further at Juve, winning the UEFA Cup in 1993, before securing a league and cup double two years later, scoring 115 goals in 200 games across five seasons before moving to Milan, where he won another Scudetto in his first year.

    After being dismissed by Fabio Capello at San Siro in 1997, Baggio had an impressive season at Bologna where he scored a personal best 22 league goals, before moving back to the city of Milan with Inter.

    Things did not work out at the Nerazzurri but he still went on to enjoy four final seasons in Serie A with Brescia, where he reached double figures in each campaign before retiring in 2004.

    Gabriel Batistuta

    There is arguably no more iconic player in Fiorentina history. A striker who football fans of a certain vintage remember banging in goals on Sunday afternoons during the nineties.

    Unlike most of the players on this list, Batistuta actually spent the majority of his career at Fiorentina, staying for nine years before his big-money move to Roma.

    The man affectionately known as 'Batigol' remains the club's record goalscorer with 159 goals in 198 games, though it does help his record that people like Vlahovic are usually sold before they can get anywhere near that total.

    Though he had won a Coppa Italia, Batistuta wanted a Scudetto and moved to Roma in 2000 in order to get it. It was the highest fee ever paid for a player over the age of 30, a record which stood until Leonardo Bonucci moved to Milan from Juventus in 2017.

    It seemed like a justified move when Batistuta scored 20 goals, including netting against his former club, on the way to winning the title in his first season in the Italian capital, but was unable to reach those heights again, scoring just 11 over the following season and a half before a loan move to Inter.

    Rui Costa

    The Portuguese maestro had made a name for himself at Benfica before moving to Italy in 1994 and making 230 appearances in seven years with La Viola, winning two Coppa Italia titles.

    However, like Batistuta, Rui Costa was moved on for big money to try and help the club's finances, ending up at Milan for a then club-record fee of around £35m.

    Rui Costa spent five years at San Siro where he won six trophies, including the Champions League in 2003 and Scudetto a year later. He moved back to Benfica in 2006 after the emergence of Kaka saw his minutes reduced.

    Federico Bernardeschi

    Bernardeschi came through the youth ranks at Fiorentina, with big things expected of him as he burst onto the scene after an impressive loan at Crotone in Serie B in the 2013-14 season.

    During three years in the first team, Bernardeschi scored 23 goals in 93 games and registered 11 assists, which unfortunately for Viola fans saw old enemies Juve come swooping in again.

    He has claimed three Serie A titles and two Coppa Italia trophies in Turin, as well as being a part of the Italy squad that won the rescheduled Euro 2020 last year.

    Bernardeschi, who has scored just 11 times in 170 games for Juve, largely remains a squad player under Massimiliano Allegri, in part because of this next man...

    Federico Chiesa

    Another Fiorentina youth product, Chiesa had all eyes on him as soon as he broke through due to being the son of former Viola and Italy striker Enrico Chiesa.

    Chiesa Jr made his first-team debut, somewhat ironically, against Juve at the age of 18, and over the next couple of years began to establish himself as the potential future of the club.

    More suited to playing out wide than his father, who was a traditional central striker, Chiesa's managed 34 goals and 19 assists in 153 games at Fiorentina but it his tenacity, pace and skill that sets him apart.

    That was enough to tempt – yes, you guessed it – Juve to come along and take him on a two-year loan, with an obligation to make it permanent at the end of the current campaign.

    Chiesa had an impressive first season at Juve, including scoring the winning goal in the Coppa Italia final against Atalanta, before starring for Italy in their successful Euro 2020 campaign, scoring twice in seven appearances and making the team of the tournament.

    He started 2021-22 in sharp form, only for a serious knee injury to end his season early.

    There also must be honourable mentions for the likes of Luca Toni, whose emergence at Fiorentina earned him a lucrative move to Bayern Munich, and Francesco Toldo - he was sold to Inter at the same time that Costa was packed off to Milan to ease club debts.

    Juan Cuadrado (now at Juventus) and Marcos Alonso were both sold to Chelsea for decent money two years apart, while Felipe Melo (Juventus), Stevan Jovetic (Manchester City) and Matias Vecino (Inter) continued Fiorentina's philosophy of buying low and selling high.

    The path well-trodden out of the Stadio Artemio Franchi has often led to bigger and better things, and that bodes well for Vlahovic now that it appears he will be the next in line.

    He seems to have all the tools to be the star striker this current, rather dour, edition of the Bianconeri require. Indeed, Vlahovic's 33 goals in Serie A last season matched the record set by Cristiano Ronaldo at Juve in 2020.

    It might be tough to take (again) for Viola fans, but if history is anything to go by, their next hero won't be far away.

    Of course, he'll probably also sign for Juve eventually, but that will just be a case of crossing the Ponte Vecchio when they come to it.

  • BREAKING NEWS: Juventus seal €70m Vlahovic deal BREAKING NEWS: Juventus seal €70m Vlahovic deal

    Juventus have completed the signing of highly rated Dusan Vlahovic from Fiorentina for a fee of €70million.

    The striker, who turned 22 on Friday, agreed to a four-and-a-half-year deal with the Bianconeri and passed a medical.

    Juve will pay the €70m fee over three financial years, plus additional costs of €11.6m. A further €10m will be due to Fiorentina should Vlahovic meet certain sporting objectives.

    Vlahovic is the joint-top scorer in Serie A this season with 17 goals from 21 appearances – a tally only matched by Lazio's Ciro Immobile.

    He has been linked with a host of top clubs across Europe after his impressive form over the past two seasons.

    Vlahovic joins Massimiliano Allegri's Juve team, who have often struggled to turn possession into goals this season, having scored just 34 times across 23 Serie A games.

    That means their attack is the 11th-best in the league, way behind leading scorers Inter (53), while Fiorentina have scored 41 times so far with Vlahovic on board.

    Serbia international Vlahovic, who joined La Viola from Partizan in 2018, has converted 28 big chances since the start of last season, more than any other player in Serie A.

     

    His tally of 21 goals during 2020-21 was the highest recorded by a Fiorentina player in a single campaign since Alberto Gilardino in 2008-09 (25).

    Vlahovic also netted 33 league goals in 2021; matching Cristiano Ronaldo’s record for the most scored in the Italian top-flight during a calendar year. 

    Last week, Fiorentina chief executive Joe Barone confirmed the club were open to selling Vlahovic, who subsequently missed Sunday's draw with Cagliari due to a positive COVID-19 test.

    Vlahovic's arrival in Turin may pave the way for Alvaro Morata to leave Juve, with Barcelona reportedly keen on signing the Spain international, who is on loan from Atletico Madrid.

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