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Will Tua Tagovailoa Get Paid Like Joe Burrow & Justin Herbert?

With his strong play and history with concussions, what will Tua Tagovailoa’s next contract look like? Perhaps like Joel Embiid’s 2017 deal.

Tua Tagovailoa put up perhaps the most impressive performance in the NFL‘s opening weekend, throwing for 466 yards and three touchdowns in the Miami Dolphins‘ wild 36-34 statement shootout road win against the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday.

It was the fourth-most yards ever thrown in a Week 1 game, trailing Dolphins legend Dan Marino’s 473 yards in 1994, Tom Brady‘s 511 yards in 2011, and Norm Van Brocklin’s 554 yards in 1956. Tagovailoa is now the fourth QB ever with two games of at least 450 yards and three TDs in his first four seasons, joining Marc Bulger, Joe Burrow, and Patrick Mahomes.

Those last two players, Tua’s AFC contemporaries, are vital when it comes to determining Tagovailoa’s future earnings. He sneakily led the league in several statistical categories last season, including yards gained per pass attempt, yards gained per pass completion, and QB rating at 105.5. He finished ninth in the MVP race and went 8-5 in 2022 when he was under center, helping Miami reach the playoffs for the first time in six years.

Tua is on the last year of his four-year, $30.275 million fully guaranteed rookie deal, and his fifth-year option for 2024 at $23.171 million was already picked up. A free agent in March 2025, Tagovailoa will be looking for the type of contract Burrow signed last week, a five-year, $275 million deal with $219 million guaranteed, the largest in NFL history. Looking at the QB contract landscape, there’s no reason, based on Tua’s on-field performance, that he shouldn’t be getting a contract like Mahomes, Lamar Jackson, or Justin Herbert.

For what it’s worth, Spotrac — which determines the market value of NFL players based on a number of statistical variables and calculations — sets Tua’s market value at six years, $285,197,322. This would make him the fifth highest-paid QB in the league when it comes to annual salary at $47,532,887.

Of course, the elephant in the room is Tagovaiola’s history of violent concussions and head injuries, something the Spotrac equation doesn’t take into account. He missed two weeks after suffering a concussion in a Thursday night primetime game against Cincinnati in September that went viral on social media, and his season ended last Christmas with another concussion against Green Bay.

Would Miami — or any team — invest the kind of money Tua will look for when he’s such an injury risk? How much guaranteed money should Tagovailoa expect when he’s one head injury away from his career and long-term health being put into jeopardy? These questions complicate any Tua contract discussions, making it a fascinating case study when the time comes to negotiate a new deal.

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The easiest solution seems like a big contract in terms of total compensation but lower in guaranteed money, with incentives tied to games played and the other usual performance bonuses and incentives. Perhaps the most apt comparison to make comes from the NBA, with an extremely talented player coming with an extreme injury risk.

Back in 2017, the Philadelphia 76ers had an incredible talent in Joel Embiid, a charismatic superstar in the making who averaged 20 points and nearly eight rebounds per game in the first 31 games of his career after missing his first two full NBA seasons with injury. Prior to the 2017-18 campaign, Embiid signed a designated rookie scale max extension of five years and $146.5 million that eventually increased to $178 million for All-NBA selections. But because of his injury history and the risks the Sixers incurred, only $84.2 million was initially guaranteed.

Ronald Martinez / Getty Images

That Embiid type of deal could be the blueprint for a Tagovailoa extension whenever those discussions begin. But it’s going to be a fascinating push-and-pull in negotiations, with Tua likely asking for a record-setting deal in line with what the league’s top quarterbacks are receiving these days and the Dolphins rightfully being cautious given their franchise QB’s history with concussions.

Tua’s virtuoso performance Sunday highlighted how far he can take the Dolphins if he maintains his top form — or if he raises his level of play as the 25-year-old develops further. But it also brings a fascinating potential future contract standoff into focus, and it could be an inflection point that defines the long-term direction of a Miami franchise that’s looked for and likely found a top-level quarterback for the first time since Marino last wore teal and orange nearly a quarter century ago.

Buckle up.

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