Dolphins committed to Tagovailoa, looking to build on 2022

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — Dolphins general manager Chris Grier quoted Hall of Famer Bill Parcells when describing Miami's 2022 season, in which the team showed promise but fell short of its goals.

“He says ‘You are what you are,’” Grier said Monday. “I think we finished where we were but we got to the playoffs, had a chance to win a playoff game versus one of the best teams in football.”

The Dolphins lost 34-31 to the Buffalo Bills in the AFC wild-card round Sunday.

The Dolphins briefly challenged Buffalo for the top spot in the AFC East after starting the season 8-3, but injuries and poor performances at crucial moments cost them. They became the only team in NFL history to make the playoffs with losing streaks of three and five games in the same season. Grier said he’s not satisfied with Miami’s 9-9 finish.

“At the end of the day, all 32 teams are trying to get to that ultimate goal,” he said. “To watch the guys compete yesterday, knowing the injuries we had. ... Disappointed we lost, but very excited."

Coach Mike McDaniel, the former San Francisco offensive coordinator, brought a quirky confidence to the team in his first season. He got a lot of the credit for Miami’s hot start and shouldered much of the blame for its late-season collapse, which culminated with puzzling clock management in Sunday’s playoff loss.

“There’s a lot of constructive criticism that I put on myself first and foremost,” McDaniel said. “Bottom line is, in the moment, we weren’t able to execute."

One of McDaniel’s biggest successes was instilling confidence in quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and designing an offensive system that allowed him to thrive.

In his third NFL season, Tagovailoa had career highs in passing yards (3,548), touchdowns (25), completion percentage (64.8) and passer rating (105.5).

The concern will be Tagovailoa’s health after he was diagnosed with two concussions that cost him five games, including Sunday’s playoff loss. He has a history of serious injuries dating back to his college career at Alabama.

“We fully expect him back next year, 100 percent ready to go," Grier said. “He is our starting quarterback and will be next season.”

Grier said he doesn’t believe Tagovailoa will be more susceptible to concussions than any other player based on the advice of team doctors and NFL consultants.

Beyond Tagovailoa, injuries affected nearly every position for Miami, though there were bright spots to build on.

Jaylen Waddle and Tyreek Hill were among the NFL's most productive receiving duos. Defensive tackle Christian Wilkins earned a large payday with a career year. Rookie Skylar Thompson stepped in amid quarterback injuries. Undrafted rookie cornerback Kader Kohou had a standout season.

“It wasn’t perfect, but we did some good things and we played hard and we fought hard to the very end,” Wilkins said. “That’s one of the things I appreciate about this team and respect about this team.”

DEFENSIVE QUESTIONS

The Dolphins’ defensive performances in the last few games, including three forced turnovers against Josh Allen and the Bills on Sunday, were examples of how good they could be on that side of the ball. That just wasn’t evident all season.

Miami’s pass defense was shredded much too often, and questions about defensive coordinator Josh Boyer’s job security are likely to persist. McDaniel said he’s proud of how Boyer and the defense ended the season, adding that it’s too soon to make staffing decisions.

Miami ended the season ranked 18th in total defense, 27th in passing defense, fourth in rushing defense and tied for 30th in takeaways.

Byron Jones, one of Miami's best cornerbacks, did not play a game after offseason surgery on his lower left leg. Cornerback Nik Needham, safety Brandon Jones, cornerback Trill Williams, defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah and linebacker Trey Flowers all went on season-ending injured reserve.

GONE FOR GOOD?

As tight end Mike Gesicki cleaned out his locker on Monday, he said he hoped it wouldn’t be his last time at the Dolphins’ facility.

Gesicki, drafted by Miami in 2018, played this season under the franchise tag as the Dolphins tried to find ways to fit him into McDaniel’s system. Gesicki was tasked with being more of a blocker, and it didn’t work out as either party would have hoped.

McDaniel said during the season that he considered it a failure that he wasn’t able to feature Gesicki in the offense more. The tight end had his fewest receptions (22) and yards (362) since his rookie season.

Gesicki hasn’t complained much this season about his lack of involvement in the offense, but he’s said he would love more opportunities with the ball. That just may not happen with the Dolphins.

NEXT STEPS

With Tagovailoa expected to return for his fourth season, the Dolphins will have to decide whether to offer him an extension. They’ll first need to decide if they'll pick up his fifth-year option, which would be guaranteed even if he is injured again. Finding his replacement wouldn’t be easy. Miami is about $9 million over the salary cap, according to Spotrac, and has no first-round pick in this year's draft. Moreover, Miami will enter the offseason with 28 players expected to hit free agency and upgrades needed at multiple positions.

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Alanis Thames, The Associated Press