The Miami Dolphins have already made it clear that quarterback Tua Tagovailoa will return as the team’s starter in 2023.
Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel said as much in his press conference that followed Sunday’s 34-31 wild-card round playoff loss to the Buffalo Bills that ended Miami’s season.
General manager Chris Grier backed that up Monday as he and McDaniel offered their final perspective on the 2022 season and looked ahead into the 2023 offseason.
“I would say that Tua’s our starting quarterback,” Grier said, definitively. “I don’t know how we can say it any more clearly. We’ve been that way through this season.”
Beyond that, for the quarterback that just completed his third NFL season, the Dolphins also anticipate him to be healthy following a season where Tagovailoa suffered two diagnosed concussions plus another previous blow to the head.
“We fully expect him back next year, 100 percent, ready to go,” Grier said.
Tagovailoa missed five starts between the regular season and postseason recovering from the head trauma, had one instance where he was stretchered off and sent to a hospital in Cincinnati from his most severe concussion on Sept. 29 and also missed snaps four days earlier in a home game against the Bills to be evaluated for a head injury.
The Dolphins brass believes the concussion history for Tagovailoa, who also suffered one in college at Alabama, doesn’t make him more susceptible to future concussions.
“I think, from what our doctors and the consultants we talk to through the NFLPA, that is not a true statement,” Grier said about the idea of being more likely to suffer future concussions. “For us, I don’t think he’s any more prone than anyone else. … From everything we’ve been told, that is not a concern.”
McDaniel added: “Specifically, these are the doctors that are working with him directly and individually, as opposed to generalization.”
According to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons: “The risk of concussion in football is three to six times higher in players who have had a previous concussion.”
There are cases of the opposite, however. Dolphins outside linebacker Jaelan Phillips suffered multiple concussions in college at UCLA, but he has not had one since after sitting out the 2019 season to transfer to the University of Miami, starring as a college defensive end for the Hurricanes in 2020 and then his first two NFL seasons with the Dolphins.
There’s also been talk about changing Tagovailoa’s helmet, so he can mitigate the impact to the head, but Grier indicated that Tagovailoa’s helmet is one of the better ones for player safety.
“For every player, that’s a choice that they make,” Grier said. “They all like the comfort, feel and whatever. I think those will be discussions that we’ll have.”
McDaniel added that sliding will be a point of emphasis with Tagovailoa, as well.
McDaniel reaffirmed the team’s commitment to Tagovailoa on Sunday after the loss to the Bills.
“Of course. You guys know how I feel about Tua. That hasn’t changed at all,” the coach at Highmark Stadium. “I think we all see him as a leader on this team. When it’s appropriate for him to lead the team, we’ll jump on that opportunity.”
Tagovailoa enters the final year of his rookie contract. In 2023, Tagovailoa will earn a base salary of $1,010,000 and a roster bonus of $3,728,469, while carrying a cap hit of $9,633,094.
The Dolphins are hit with the important decision this offseason of whether to take on his fifth-year option, which would commit them to Tagovailoa for 2024 at a figure of more than $22 million.
“Everything’s on the table for us,” Grier said.
Tagovailoa, in 13 games this season, led the NFL in passer rating at 105.5. He also was the league leader in yards per attempt at 8.9. He went 8-5 with a 64.8 completion percentage, 3,548 yards, 25 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
Beyond Tagovailoa, the Dolphins were ravaged by injuries in 2022. They never had cornerback Byron Jones from his offseason surgery. They lost key defenders in safety Brandon Jones, cornerback Nik Needham and defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah for the season. Other standouts like Pro Bowlers in left tackle Terron Armstead and cornerback Xavien Howard missed time and played through injuries. Miami was down to its third-string rookie quarterback, Skylar Thompson, to start a regular-season finale and then a playoff game in Buffalo.
Grier estimated it was the most one of his rosters were decimated by injuries since the 2017 season.
Despite this, the general manager is not looking into changing his philosophy in the future by placing greater emphasis on player injury history when making roster decisions.
“I think you can’t be scared of stuff,” said Grier, noting Armstead’s play throughout the season, along with running back Raheem Mostert as players who have been labeled as injury-prone.
Some of the Dolphins lost to injury in 2022 spoke to reporters for the first time since having their seasons cut short in an open locker room session Monday.
Needham, who tore his Achilles, said he’ll be wearing a boot on his right foot for another month.
“I’l be ready for training camp,” he said. “That’s the plan if everything keeps going well.
An unrestricted free agent, Needham said the team has expressed interest in keeping him.
Ogbah was progressing from his triceps injury and was working toward a return to play had the Dolphins advanced further into the postseason.