Dolphins' backing of Tua Tagovailoa heightens pressure on QB to become elite | Opinion

INDIANAPOLIS — Speculation on Deshaun Watson to Miami is officially, finally, over.

"I think the door is shut on Deshaun," Dolphins general manager Chris Grier told local reporters in a meeting at the NFL scouting combine Wednesday.

Grier covered a variety of topics on Wednesday, including Xavien Howard, Emmanuel Ogbah, Mike Gesicki, Mike McDaniel, Miami's offensive line and reasons for hope.

One thing Grier could not discuss was Brian Flores' accusations of racism or the tanking allegations against the Dolphins. That's because the claim Grier told Flores that club owner Stephen Ross wasn't happy about the winning in 2019 was, well, contained in a lawsuit.

McDaniel, the new coach, is a bundle of positive energy. It's infectious. You're around the guy and you smile. He talks about empowering his players and creating a belief system.

And so yes, McDaniel is going to say that he believes Tua Tagovailoa is a talented player with attributes that make the quarterback a nice fit for the system the coach brings from San Francisco.

And yes, Grier is going to say on Wednesday that Miami is committed to Tagovailoa in 2022.

"Yes," Grier said, when asked directly.

So there won't be another run at Watson, and it sure doesn't sound like there will be a run at Aaron Rodgers or Russell Wilson, either.

This new season is Tagovailoa's and he'll enter his 24th year (Tagovailoa celebrated a birthday on Tuesday) will fresh eyes and a clean slate and a positive mindset.

But is he good enough? Can he ever become what Watson is on the football field? That is, indisputably elite.

"I can’t say he can’t be," Grier said.

Recall how just last year Tagovailoa said, "I don't not feel wanted."

It seems everyone could use some clarity in the upcoming season.

There are reasons to believe Tagovailoa will be better in his third season than he was in his second. He'll be further removed from a serious hip injury. Miami will without question attempt to add capable offensive linemen, running backs and receivers.

And McDaniel's plan to establish a definitive "identity" on offense will help Tagovailoa grow. So too will a commitment to improve the run game.

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Tua's arm strength continues to be questioned

But even Grier brought up the highly-discussed Tagovailoa arm strength debate.

"I know people want to say he doesn’t throw the ball downfield, but he’s incredibly accurate, and that’s the real exciting part for Mike and the coaching staff, his accuracy," Grier said.

Dolphins coaches have pledged to focus on the throws Tagovailoa can execute well and eliminate the throws he doesn't.

Perhaps in the spring and summer, Tagovailoa will show he can consistently complete more of the deeper and more challenging passes than he has since entering the NFL.

Miami's coaches have said they want to see him throw the ball. They don't want to make any definitive judgments about what he maybe, somehow, can become.

Grier said that the new coaching staff put together a tape of the players on the current roster so they could analyze together exactly what they have to work with.

He said they were encouraged.

"Mike’s vision for how Tua fits into this scheme and what he can do, they’re all very excited about it," Grier said of how the coaches felt about the tape.

Was Miami's offensive line a mess in 2021? Yes, of course it was.

But Grier mentioned that McDaniel sees there is talent to "unlock."

And yes, undoubtedly there will be new additions to the Tagovailoa Wall.

Tagovailoa will be motivated. He must know this may be the last chance to prove to a new staff, and the entire NFL, that he can come close to his projection as a fifth overall pick.

Tagovailoa must know that his former coach did not believe he was good enough. And that former coach also questioned if he was committed enough to his craft.

Stinging stuff, for sure, and Tagovailoa will be driven to prove those notions wrong.

Tagovailoa is a pleasant, likable, popular NFL player. But does he have the size, durability and, yes, arm strength to become the player so many thought he would be?

At Alabama, it seems so obvious now, there was outstanding blocking and incredible receivers running wide open so often. Some use those facts to defend him, suggesting the problem has been everyone around him in the NFL.

Some use those facts to criticize him. Without those players, Tua has not been able to life the franchise up in a way anywhere close to a player like, say, Burrow has.

That's what makes a quarterback elite.

McDaniel and the Dolphins will hope that Tagovailoa will benefit from positive reinforcement, coaching that helps him place the ball in a better position for more yards after catch, an improved line, and an actual commitment to a competent running game.

Tua Tagovailoa #1 of the Miami Dolphins and Jaylen Waddle #17 celebrate a first down in the fourth quarter of the game against the New England Patriots at Hard Rock Stadium on January 09, 2022 in Miami Gardens, Florida.
Tua Tagovailoa #1 of the Miami Dolphins and Jaylen Waddle #17 celebrate a first down in the fourth quarter of the game against the New England Patriots at Hard Rock Stadium on January 09, 2022 in Miami Gardens, Florida.

Miami is all in on Tua.

But like most things in life, the Dolphins are all in for now.

If a second staff comes to the conclusion that, gosh darn it, he's just not big enough, strong-armed enough or special enough to be a championship-caliber quarterback, Miami will move on.

Chris Grier has a lot of capital in Tua

Nobody is as invested in Tagovailoa's success as Grier. After all, he selected Tagovailoa ahead of big, strong-armed, special Justin Herbert. It turned out all that concern about Herbert lacking the "it factor" was, well, completely off-base and misguided.

Tagovailoa figures to be better in 2022. It seems an almost certainty he will be.

But will he be so good that one year from now, at the NFL Scouting Combine, perhaps in Los Angeles, or Dallas, we're not talking about which QB1 the Dolphins may draft?

Can Tagovailoa become so good that they opt to "close the door" on veteran quarterbacks available next offseason? The Dolphins are committed to find out.

"Mike and the staff have come to do a lot of work and studied a lot of Tua and they feel good about his developmental upside, what he can be," Grier said.

But elite?

We're about to find out. One more chance for Tagovailoa to prove he can be.

This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Miami Dolphins out on Deshaun Watson, heightening pressure on Tua