TUSCALOOSA — The book on Tua Tagovailoa's roller-coaster career at Alabama came to a close Monday when he confirmed what many had long suspected — he's headed to the NFL.
Alabama's left-handed gunslinger from Hawaii announced his intentions to leave school early and enter the 2020 NFL draft, where the 2018 Heisman Trophy runner-up is expected to be a potential Top-5 pick despite a horrific hip injury that prematurely ended his collegiate career in late November.
"I've had a difficult time making this decision about my future ... my love for the University of Alabama, our coaches, our fans and my teammates has made this especially hard for me," Tagovailoa said during a Monday morning news conference at the Alabama team facility. "I've had the advice and counsel of my parents, my family, and coaches in going through a thorough analysis of the alternatives.
"And without further adieu, with lots of prayers, thoughts and guidance I have decided that I'll be declaring and entering the 2020 NFL Draft."
Tagovailoa becomes the fifth of Alabama’s loaded junior class to choose to leave early for the NFL, following recent defections by receiver Jerry Jeudy, safety Xavier McKinney and right tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. Redshirt junior outside linebacker Terrell Lewis also elected to leave early for the NFL when he chose not to play in the Citrus Bowl following the conclusion of the regular season last month.
"It was a really hard decision," Tagovailoa said. "Going through my rehab and talking to my parents about it, it's been tough. I have been going back and forth because some things make sense, others don't. I just had to factor in a lot of things as to why I should either stay or why I should leave. ... Now that it's done, I don't have to worry about it too much any more."
Meanwhile, only three of the Crimson Tide's draft-eligible juniors have elected to stay in school following recent announcements from left tackle Alex Leatherwood, middle linebacker Dylan Moses and receiver DeVonta Smith, each of whom declared their returns in the last week over social media. Alabama fans are still awaiting word on NFL decisions from junior running back Najee Harris and receiver Henry Ruggs III. Underclassmen have until Jan. 20 to declare for the 2020 NFL draft.
Tagovailoa was among several of Alabama’s talented junior class to receive first-round grades — reportedly joining Jeudy and McKinney — from the NFL’s College Advisory Committee last week, but was the only one routinely projected as a likely Top-15 pick according to the NFL teams head coach Nick Saban spoke to in the last several weeks.
"I know this has been a very difficult decision for him and his family," Saban said of Tagovailoa. "Our role in that is not to make a decision, but only to provide all the information that we can whether it's physical, medical, spiritual and every way that he can to help any of our players make their decisions."
Tagovailoa said NFL general managers and owners he's spoken personally spoken to are treating his hip injury like any normal typical late-season knee injury that could inhibit a draft pick during their rookie season.
While no longer a certainty given his extensive injury history, Tagovailoa is still widely projected to be a Top-5 pick in April’s NFL draft according to many reputable draft experts. Based on last year’s model, Tagovailoa could expect to receive a roughly $30 million rookie contract with a potential $19.5-20 million signing bonus as the No. 5 overall pick, according to numbers provided by spotrac,com.
Of course, those figures drop considerably should he fall out of the Top 5, with picks 6-15 ranging anywhere between $25-14.5 million overall with a signing bonus between $16.7-8.5 million according to last year’s salary pool. Case in point, the New York Giants paid quarterback Daniel Jones a $25.7 million deal with a $16.7 million signing bonus as last year’s No. 6 overall pick, while the Washington Redskins gave quarterback Dwayne Haskins a $14.4 million deal overall with a $8.5 million signing bonus as the 15th pick.
That said, even Tagovailoa seemed uncertain where in the first round he might be taken.
"It really depends on how the doctors report goes with my MRI, my X-rays at the 3-month mark," Tagovailoa said. "But then again what factors into this decision too is our faith, and (making) a leap of it."
Tagovailoa is seven weeks removed from undergoing emergency surgery Nov. 18 in Houston to repair a season-ending right hip dislocation with a posterior wall fracture — an injury most commonly associated with high-speed motor vehicle accidents — suffered late in the second quarter of the Mississippi State game Nov. 16 in Starkville, Miss.
Tagovailoa, who walked to the podium Monday without any assistance, transitioned to crutches two weeks ago after roughly six weeks without any weight-bearing, and has been quite mobile ever since, including using just a single crutch to get around during Alabama's bowl trip in Orlando. He is expected to resume more physical activity like light jogging around the 12-week post-op window in early-to-mid February.
Tagovailoa, who said he plans to continue rehabbing in Tuscaloosa over the next couple of months, recently underwent a medical evaluation with nationally-renown doctors in New York City on Friday and received positive albeit inconclusive results.
"From what they've seen in New York, everything looks good, but you can't really tell until the three-month mark or the four-month mark," Tagovailoa said. "That's the gauge on all that. ... It pretty much boils down to one thing, and I think that's faith. ... Coming from a family that has a lot of (faith), I'm definitely willing to take that challenge."
Tagovailoa's decision to go pro leaves Alabama with a bit of a quarterback quandary with three current players seemingly vying to replace the strong-armed gunslinger as the Crimson Tide starter. Rising redshirt junior Mac Jones, who started four games this past season in relief of an injured Tagovailoa, is the early front-runner after combining for 1,172 of his 1,503 passing yards and 13 of his 14 touchdowns this season while completing 71.4 percent of his passes (70-of-98) over those four starts. Of course, Jones will have competition from five-star early enrollee Bryce Young, the nation's No. 1 rated dual-threat quarterback in the 2020 class according to 247Sports.com's national composite, and rising sophomore Taulia Tagovailoa, Tagovailoa's younger brother who served as the team's third-string quarterback this past season as a freshman.
"It'll be good. I'm looking forward it," Tagovailoa said of the upcoming quarterback competition. "They got another guy coming in, Bryce Young, he looked good at his All-American game. If you love competition, now's the best time for it, for Mac Jones, for my little brother (Taulia Tagovailoa) and for Bryce Young as an incoming freshman."
Young, who arrived in Tuscaloosa on Sunday after winning MVP of the U.S. Army All-American game the day before, arrives with as much hype as Tagovailoa did three years ago after combining for 68 total touchdowns as a senior for nationally-ranked Mater Dei High in Santa Ana, Calif., including 58 scores and 4,528 yards through the air.
Meanwhile, Tagovailoa leaves as one of the most prolific passers in Alabama program history having already reset the standard for what it means to be a Crimson Tide quarterback. Along with his 22-2 record in less than two full seasons as Alabama’s starter, Tagovailoa’s 7,442 career passing yards ranks third all-time in school history, less than 500 yards behind second-place John Parker Wilson (7,924 yards) but still a ways to go to catch A.J. McCarron’s 9,019 career passing yards.
Nevertheless, Tagovailoa still ranks No. 1 in school history in other categories, including career completion percentage (69.3) and career touchdowns (87 — 10 more than McCarron’s previous record total), while also ranking No. 1 with 96 total touchdowns in his career. Tagovailoa also established a new standard for passing excellence in a season over the past two years, ranking first and second in program history with 43 and 33 touchdown passes in 2018 and 2019, respectively, while also breaking the single-season yardage mark with 4,156 total yards (averaging a school-record 277.1 yards per game) after throwing for a program-record 3,966 yards in 2018.
"Tua has probably had as much of an impact on our program here as any player that we've ever had, and I'm not just talking about as a football player," Saban said. "He's helped us continue the streak of nine 11-win seasons, he's won a national championship here with his performance."
Alex Byington is the Montgomery Advertiser's Alabama beat reporter. He can be reached by email at email@example.com or on Twitter at @_AlexByington.