Miami Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa is one of the players believed to have suffered a single-digit number of concussions in the NFL this season, according to sources.
He suffered his second concussion of the season against the Packers at Christmas, and his third was a blow to the head. He was not tested for a concussion during the game and the next day he saw a doctor only after showing concussion-like symptoms. A joint NFL and NFL Players Association review of Tagovailoa’s handling of concussions found that “concussion symptoms did not appear or were reported until the next day,” and there was no reason for the protocol to be triggered.
It is unclear if and when Tagovailoa will be able to return to play. The Dolphins ruled him out in Sunday’s game against the Patriots and are in contention for a wild card spot.
The concussion protocol for returning to play is the same regardless of the number of concussions a player has received. However, according to league sources, there has always been a “rich and solid” debate about players with multiple concussions and their return to play.
The union believes a player’s background may be considered a more important factor in evaluating a player with multiple concussions like Tagovailoa.
No one has publicly confirmed when Tagovailoa suffered a second concussion, but video from the second quarter of the Packers game shows the back of his head hitting the turf. Concussion spotters are trained to look for certain types of injury behavior (such as staggering, helmet or face mask grabbing, and ataxia) following a blow to the head.
Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel said he saw the tape on Monday and noticed a difference in Tagovailoa.
The review determined that no injury behavior occurred immediately after a blow to the head. According to multiple sources, introducing a policy into the protocol that all players who hit their head are checked for concussion is not an acceptable way to play the game.
There are 5 spotters in the booth. Two spotters, an unrelated neurotrauma consultant (or independent physician), and two video technicians. Would adding a person he or her two help increase the number of head injuries?
“Everything is on the table,” said one source.
All three of Tagovailoa’s blows to the head this season have been to the back of the head. An NFL study found that the quarterback regularly suffered concussions due to falling in unprotected ways based on how the position was played.
The league has spent tens of millions of dollars developing safer helmet technology and continues to explore position-specific helmets. The league introduced his TRENCH helmet for the offensive lineman. This provides more padding to the front of the helmet where these players are prone to concussions.
Work is underway on a quarterback-specific helmet, including pads designed into the back of the helmet, and it is believed within the league that the quarterback-specific helmet will be ready sometime next year.