Dolphins, Tua Tagovailoa are struggling to find a middle ground

The market is the market. And the Dolphins might not be ready to give quarterback Tua Tagovailoa a market deal.

Earlier today, Omar Kelly of the Miami Herald posted a clip from ESPN’s Jeff Darlington that confirms many of the things we’ve been hearing about the negotiations between Miami and their starting quarterback.

Tua wants a market-level deal. The Dolphins have yet to offer one. They possibly won’t.

The fact that a deal has yet to be done makes that obvious. What is far from obvious is whether Miami will get there before training camp opens.

As explained last week on #PFTPM and in this post, the Dolphins possibly plan to make Tua a final pre-camp offer that will be significantly more valuable than the remainder of his current contract (one year, $23.1 million) but also significantly less valuable than market value, as established by recent contracts given to Lions quarterback Jared Goff ($53 million per year in new money) and Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence ($55 million). If that happens, Tua will have to decide whether to take the offer or keep pushing for more before the season starts.

The question then becomes whether the Dolphins will sufficiently improve the offer before Week 1. And the reality becomes that, once Tua reports for camp, he really doesn’t have the leverage to make it happen. Even if he holds in and doesn’t practice as talks continue, at some point the negotiations end and the season begins. (That’s what happened two years ago with the Bears and linebacker Roquan Smith, who eventually did not get a long-term deal before playing for the Bears until being traded to the Ravens at the deadline.)

Tua’s most effective play would be to not show up at all. Will he do that? That possibly hinges on Miami’s final pre-camp offer — and on his reaction to it.

As the current divide goes, it could be as simple as the first number in Miami’s offer being a “4” and the first number in Tua’s request being a “5”. As explained in the item laying out the various candidates to be the first to $60 million per year, there are ways to manipulate the package to pump up the new-money average, like the Dolphins did two years ago with receiver Tyreek Hill.

Will it be enough for Tua to take a deal that looks better than it really is? A market-level long-term deal in let’s-see-what-he-does-this-year-and-maybe-next-year clothing will generate headlines indicating that Tua got what he wanted. The details could paint a starkly different picture.

Remember when the Raiders re-signed Derek Carr and it was widely trumpeted as a $40 million per year deal? The contract was specifically designed to give Las Vegas an escape hatch after one season. And they took advantage of it.

In the end, will it be enough for Tua to get a deal that seems better than it is, and that protects Miami in the event he doesn’t progress, or potentially regresses?

That could be the key to getting a deal done before training camp opens. It also could be the key to avoiding something that rarely happens. An established, veteran quarterback refusing to show up to training camp until he gets what he wants.

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