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Dolphins GM Chris Grier: 'The door is shut' on Deshaun Watson joining Miami

Miami Dolphins general manager Chris Grier said Wednesday afternoon that "the door is shut on Deshaun," putting an end to a yearlong connection between the team and a potential trade for Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson.

This is the latest definitive signal that the Dolphins are fully committed to Tua Tagovailoa as their starting quarterback in 2022, something new head coach Mike McDaniel has also made clear in recent weeks.

"Mike and the staff have come in to do a lot of work, studied a lot of Tua and they feel good about his developmental upside, what he can be and then the fit in the offense," Grier told reporters at the NFL Scouting Combine. "I think we're good with Tua."

Grier said McDaniel and his offensive staff have watched Tagovailoa's every throw. They came away excited and comfortable with Tagovailoa's expected fit in the new scheme. Headed into Year 3, Grier made clear Tagovailoa will have to do the work, but he has the full support of the Dolphins' regime now, something that was in serious question throughout the 2021 season.

The Dolphins didn't definitively shut down rumblings connecting them as the frontrunners for Watson throughout the 2021 season, and the team's on-field production suffered with the Dolphins starting 1-7. After the trade deadline with Watson still a Texan, Grier confirmed the team did look into trading for the Pro Bowl QB, who didn't play last season amid a trade request and 22 allegations of sexual misconduct that are currently the subject of civil lawsuits, a police investigation and an NFL probe. Tagovailoa then led the Dolphins to wins in eight of their final nine games, though they still missed the playoffs.

Tagovailoa met with his new offensive coaches -- McDaniel, offensive coordinator Frank Smith and QBs coach Darrell Bevell -- at the Dolphins facility last month and they've expressed their confidence in him personally. He also began his football workouts in preparation for the 2022 season last month in South Florida, alongside personal trainer Nick Hicks at PER4ORM Broward Sports and Fitness Training Gym.

The lingering question around Tagovailoa is whether he can be an elite franchise quarterback for Miami. When asked about that Wednesday, Grier responded, "I can't say he can't be," noting he's still just 23 games into his career and will be in a system moving forward that highlights his "incredible accuracy" and feature an improved run game.

Dolphins pursued Payton, but not Brady

The Dolphins spent nearly a month in their coaching search before hiring McDaniel, and Grier confirmed that part of that time was spent checking on the status of former Saints head coach Sean Payton after he announced his resignation in late January.

Grier confirmed that he called New Orleans a couple of days later, "to see if he is done with football or does he want to coach. … They told us no, they weren't going to grant permission. So that was it.

"We stopped to see if he would have interest at all. So, I don't even know if he would have interest."

One report stated the Dolphins were looking to pair Payton with quarterback Tom Brady for 2022. Though Grier confirmed the brief Payton interest, he quickly shot down the Brady report, saying he "never had a conversation" with him.

Grier also said they had conversations with coaches who hadn't previously been reported, none of which included Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh, who drew early speculation to the job.

The Dolphins hired McDaniel as head coach on Feb. 6, citing a strong interview process and great reviews from people around the league who called McDaniel the "brains behind" the 49ers' offense.

Other news and notes from Grier's media availability:

  • Grier was asked about former coach Brian Flores' class-action lawsuit against the NFL and three of its teams, including the Dolphins, alleging a pattern of racist hiring practices by the league and other forms of racial discrimination, but he declined comment citing its ongoing nature. The league has begun an investigation on allegations that Flores was offered $100,000 per loss in 2019, which the Dolphins have vehemently denied. "(At) some point when it's done, maybe in the future, but I can't comment on this right now," Grier said. Flores, who was fired by Miami in January, was hired last month by the Pittsburgh Steelers as the assistant head coach/linebackers coach, and has said plans to keep pursuing his lawsuit.
  • Grier said the team is working toward a resolution on a restructured contract with star cornerback Xavien Howard. He wants to be paid commiserate to his production, which includes back-to-back Pro Bowl seasons and 15 interceptions over his past 32 games. "My anticipation is that Xavien will be here next year," Grier said. "We made the promise to him -- after the season, we'll make the adjustment. ... Just to be truthful with him and do it, that's the right thing to do." Howard and his agent agreed to a tweak of the contract prior to the 2021 season ending a brief trade request. Grier said he's spoken with Howard and Howard's agent multiple times with plans to take care of Howard's desires to be better compensated. Howard is currently set to make $13.7 million in 2022, less than several other cornerbacks, including fellow Dolphins cornerback Byron Jones, who is set to make $14.4 million.
  • The Dolphins top two pending free agents are defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah and tight end Mike Gesicki. Grier indicated they have had more active conversations with Ogbah than Gesicki throughout the season and during the combine this week. Grier and McDaniel both made it clear Wednesday they want Ogbah back, praising him as a person and player. Ogbah, who outplayed his two-year, $15 million deal signed in 2020, is coming off consecutive nine-sack seasons while also being productive in coverage. Gesicki, meanwhile, set career highs in receiving yards (780) and catches (73), though his agent and the Dolphins are not close on a long-term extension right now. "Mike knows how I feel about him," Grier said. "I drafted him and have had separate conversations with Mike. We've had limited talks with his agents." Grier then added: "As it got to the end of the season with free agency, both of those guys get to this point, they want to be able to see what their options are. They both told us they want to be back in Miami. They both love it here, they want to be back. We'll see what happens." Grier said everything is on the table for the pair, including the franchise tag, which would be a more likely option for Gesicki than Ogbah.
  • Grier said the Dolphins will "most likely" pick up the fifth-year option on defensive tackle Christian Wilkins, who he said had "a heck of a year last year." Wilkins had a career-high 4.5 sacks and was a consistent disruptor in the run game.
  • The Dolphins head into 2022 free agency with more projected cap space -- just over $60 million -- than any team in the NFL. Grier said they anticipate being "aggressive" in free agency to use that money, but "that doesn't mean we'll spend every cent right up to it." One reason for the aggression, per Grier: "I don't view this as a rebuild."

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