INDIANAPOLIS >> After Tua Tagovailoa’s career-best third season in the NFL, there’s a much more confident tone around the Miami Dolphins when assessing their quarterback’s ability.
Take general manager Chris Grier’s words from the same time last year to the current day.
When he spoke to reporters at the 2022 NFL scouting combine, he was asked if he thinks Tagovailoa, a Saint Louis alum, can be elite.
Grier’s response: “I mean, I can’t say he can’t be.”
Following Tagovailoa’s league-leading 105.5 passer rating and 8.9 yards per attempt, plus career highs with 25 touchdowns and 3,548 passing yards, present-day Grier sounds much more enthusiastic about the long-term prospects of Tagovailoa behind center for the Dolphins.
“He’s our quarterback, and he’s our quarterback here to be successful for a long time,” Grier said today.
“Very excited for him. The strides he made this year with [coach Mike McDaniel] and the offense, you guys have seen it. It was really exciting. And to see the work he’s put in that you guys don’t see at the facility and around, has been really incredible.”
But amid his near-Pro Bowl-caliber third season remain the durability concerns. In 2022, concussions were the problem. Two different concussion protocol stints cost him 5 1/2 games, including the playoff loss to the Buffalo Bills.
And, probably in large part because of that, there still appears to be some internal debate within the organization about picking up Tagovailoa’s fifth-year option on his rookie contract.
“We’re still having all those conversations because there’s a lot of factors that go into that,” Grier said. “Now that we’re finally finishing up the coaching staff, we’ll focus on some of these answers. Coming together, [McDaniel] and I will sit and talk about it, as well as [owner Steve] Ross and [senior vice president of football and business administration] Brandon Shore. We’ll go through it, and we’ll make our decision then.”
The Dolphins have a May 1 deadline to exercise the option that, after the 2023 season, Tagovailoa’s fourth, would keep him under contract in 2024 at $23.1 million.
And, yes, durability concerns will factor in.
“I can’t lie and say no,” Grier said. “But it’s not something that’s going to make us afraid to do something long-term. The one thing, he’s been banged up, but he always bounces back and plays hard and performs.
“Excited for his future. Excited for watching him do the work he’s been doing in the offseason here right now to prepare for 2023. He’s very excited to get back on the field with his teammates.”
Grier acknowledges there are different dynamics at play with quarterback contract decisions with how they are amplified in the public eye and the media, but it can’t factor into the process.
“You try and take that out of it,” he said. “You just kind of make the decisions that are best for the organization and the team. There are always thoughts with the quarterback. It’s the position that everyone talks about. For us, we just try to remove emotion and try to make good, sound, smart decisions, and hopefully it’s the right one.”
Last year, at the same time, Grier seemed much more certain about picking up the fifth-year option of his 2019 first-round pick, defensive tackle Christian Wilkins. He said then the Dolphins would “most likely” exercise it before they eventually did.
Now, it’s extension talks surrounding the ultra-valuable Wilkins, who is set to make $10.75 million on that option for 2023.
“Christian, ever since we drafted him, has done nothing but get better each year. He’s a tireless worker,” Grier said. “He’s in every day, still in the offseason. I’ve seen him around more than anyone.
“He loves the game. He loves our organization. We love him. We’d like to have him here for a long time.”
As free-agent negotiations can begin March 13, where the end may be coming near with a player who has been in Miami for five seasons is with tight end Mike Gesicki. Gesicki, in his first season in McDaniel’s offense, saw totals in receptions (32) and receiving yards (362) that were his lowest since his rookie season as he heads into free agency.
“He and I had a really good conversation before he left the building,” Grier said. “I don’t know what his price range will be, but he’s been a good player in the league. He’s been a productive player.
“I’m sure he’ll have some suitors. We always say ‘never say never’ on anything, but he’s earned the right [to be a free agent] and I’m sure he’s excited to see what his free agency options are.”
The Dolphins head into free agency within two weeks possibly looking to find solutions at linebacker, cornerback, running back, tight end and on the offensive line. With 29 free agents of their own to make decisions on and possible outside additions to be brought in, Miami is more than $16 million over the salary cap, according to OverTheCap.com.
Grier and Shore will be involved in maneuvering that figure, which can get done by a combination of releasing players, making trades and restructuring deals, along with other moves like potentially extending Wilkins’ contract.
Grier reiterated today his same sentiment from his end-of-season press conference, that this should not be a significant obstacle for the franchise.
“This is nothing that’s unexpected for us. We’ve done a good job of communicating that,” he said. “When we make moves — even when we do trades like we did with [Bradley] Chubb midseason — it’s always with an eye of what things are going to look like. We’ll be fine. It’s always working from that position of flexibility that we like.”
Positions of need that get settled within the coming month could then help influence holes the Dolphins may then wish to fill in the late April NFL draft, although Grier often takes a best-player-available approach when selecting his rookie class.
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