Tua Tagovailoa to remain starting QB; Dolphins expect him to be ready

MIAMI -- There's no question within the Miami Dolphins organization who its starting quarterback will be in 2023.

Speaking with local media the day after their season-ending loss to the Buffalo Bills in the AFC wild-card round, general manager Chris Grier confirmed Tua Tagovailoa will resume his role as the team's starter next season.

Tagovailoa missed five games this season, including Sunday's playoff game, after suffering two documented concussions. He was excellent when he played, however, setting career highs in passing yards, passing touchdowns, completion percentage and yards per attempt.

In Week 12, he owned the third-shortest odds in the NFL to win the MVP award.

He had not cleared concussion protocol leading up to Sunday's game, and still hadn't as of Monday afternoon. The Dolphins have said they're taking things one day at a time with him but still expect him to return to his role when healthy.

"Tua is our starting quarterback," Grier said. "I don't know how we can say it any more clear than we've been throughout this season ... we anticipate him working and talking with the doctors and consultants and everyone we've dealt with. We fully expect him back next year, 100% ready to go."

Tagovailoa led Miami to a 3-0 start to the season but then sparked an NFLPA investigation when he hit the back of his head on the ground against the Bills in Week 3 and stumbled while trying to return to the huddle. He was taken to the locker room and evaluated for what was initially described as a head injury, but an unaffiliated neurological consultant along with a Dolphins team physician determined the stumble was caused by a previously reported back injury. Tagovailoa returned to the game and led Miami to a 21-19 win over Buffalo.

He was not diagnosed with a concussion nor was he placed into concussion protocol after the game, and he started the Dolphins game against the Cincinnati Bengals four days later. Tagovailoa hit the back of his head on the ground once again in that game and was knocked unconscious and briefly hospitalized with a concussion. He would miss the team's next two games, both losses, before returning against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 7 and immediately leading Miami to five straight wins.

That win streak was quickly followed by a five-game losing streak, however, and he suffered his second documented concussion after hitting his head in similar fashion against the Green Bay Packers in Week 16. Tagovailoa did not play in either of the team's final two games of the regular season, with Teddy Bridgewater and Skylar Thompson starting against the New England Patriots and the New York Jets, respectively.

Grier said that despite his concussions, Tagovailoa wore one of the safest helmets in use in the NFL this season. And he also said the team has not been led to believe Tagovailoa is any more susceptible to concussions in the future.

"I think from what our doctors and the consultants we talked to through the NFLPA, that is not a true statement," Grier said when asked. "I don't think he's any more prone than anyone else ... from everything we've been told, that is not a concern."

The Dolphins face a May 1 deadline to exercise Tagovailoa's fifth-year option on his rookie contract. In terms of his willingness to exercise the option or negotiate a long-term deal, Grier said he believes "everything is on the table" for them moving forward.

Financially, Miami is in a tough spot, as it's projected to enter the 2023 season roughly $9 million over the salary cap. The team has decisions to make on impending free agents Mike Gesicki, Eric Rowe, Raheem Mostert and Nik Needham, among others.

"We always have flexibility and we've done a lot of work to make sure we've maintained that," Grier said. "What it is right now is not what it will be at the start of the season. We're gonna keep going through our process here of evaluating everything."

The Dolphins will also have to make a decision on defensive tackle Christian Wilkins, who is entering the final year of his rookie contract.

The 2019 first-round draft pick set career highs in passes defended, tackles and tackles for a loss but said he is not worried about his contract situation.

"I'm not paying attention to that. I'm not in control of that," he said. "That's up to the powers that be ... but I, just like I said, control what I can control, do what I can on the field. If I do what I can around the building and things like that, then that'll all take care of itself."