Can Tua Tagovailoa be elite NFL quarterback? 'I can't say he can't be,' Dolphins GM says.
Chris Grier’s double negative doesn't sound like a ringing endorsement, but the Dolphins are moving forward with Tagovailoa and are excited about his untapped potential.
INDIANAPOLIS — If there’s one question Dolphins general manager Chris Grier may like to try answering again, it would be whether starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa can be an elite quarterback.
“I can’t say he can’t be,” Grier said when asked precisely that during the NFL Scouting Combine this week.
Grier’s double negative was not a resounding endorsement of Tagovailoa, the No. 5 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, who turned 24 Thursday. Tagovailoa is entering his third NFL season and first under new coach Mike McDaniel, whose offense could further foster Tagovailoa's talent.
Grier, McDaniel and the Dolphins are excited about Tagovailoa, particularly his accuracy. And they're moving forward with him as their franchise quarterback.
They kind of have to.
The Dolphins tried their best recently to do some whale-hunting, but to no avail.
They moved on from wanting Deshaun Watson, Tom Brady and Sean Payton in Miami.
The Dolphins were in the driver seat to trade for Watson, the embattled Houston Texans quarterback, for much of 2021. They did not trade for him at the November deadline because Watson didn't reach settlements in all 22 civil cases filed by women alleging sexual misconduct.
And they may no longer consider a trade for Watson moving forward.
“I think the door is shut on Deshaun,” Grier said.
Grier confirmed he contacted the Saints to see if he could talk to Payton and gauge his interest after he stepped down as Saints head coach.
The Saints declined the Dolphins’ request, which came before the team hired McDaniel.
“I reached out to New Orleans a couple days after just to see," Grier said. "Is he done with football or does he want to coach? I don’t know what’s going on over there. And they just told us no, they weren’t going to grant permission. So that was it.
“I don’t even know if he would have interest.”
Grier also said he had “no conversation” with Brady, although it may not have stopped Dolphins owner Steve Ross from reaching out.
ProFootballTalk reported earlier this week the Dolphins hoped to pair Payton with Brady if both considered continuing their careers.
Brady announced his retirement and Tampa Bay still holds his contract rights if he did decide to play again. The Buccaneers made clear earlier this week they would not facilitate a trade for Brady to play elsewhere.
This offseason was not the only time the Dolphins had an interest in Brady.
Brady was the “prominent quarterback” unnamed in former Dolphins coach Brian Flores’ lawsuit against the NFL and four teams, a person with direct knowledge of the situation told USA Today Sports+ last month. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.
Flores alleges Ross wanted him to court Brady after the 2019 season and before the 2020 draft.
Grier was also asked about Flores’ lawsuit, which says Ross offered Flores $100,000 per loss during the 2019 season to improve Miami’s draft position in 2020.
Grier declined to comment.
Now, the Dolphins are moving forward with Tagovailoa and McDaniel — who together are tasked with propelling the Dolphins to the playoffs for the fourth time in 20 years.
Grier hopes McDaniel, the former 49ers offensive coordinator, finds head-coaching success like other young NFL coaches, such as the 49ers' Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay with the Rams, who McDaniel counts as friends and former colleagues.
To do so, McDaniel’s offense will need to cater to Tagovailoa’s strengths. The Dolphins must also find playmakers and offensive linemen to bolster the offense.
“At the end of the day, Mike and the staff have come to do a lot of work and studied a lot of Tua," Grier said. "And they feel good about his developmental upside, what he can be and then the fit in the offense.
“I think we’re good with Tua.”
While Grier’s initial comment on Tagovailoa may have been tempered, McDaniel’s thoughts on his new quarterback were much more encouraging.
Tagovailoa has played in 22 of 27 games since his debut midway through the 2020 season. He has a 13-8 record as a starter and his 67.8% completion rate last season was sixth among NFL starters.
“I’m really excited moving forward because the guy has some skills that I think are untapped,” McDaniel said Thursday on NFL Network. “It’s important to empower the quarterback with the rest of the players around him in the scheme you bring forth.
"I think his best days are in front of him.”