“We want to be clear—Tua is our starter and we are pleased with his development," Grier told reporters Tuesday.
It's fair to wonder if that sentiment is shared by coach Brian Flores, who twice benched Tagovailoa in favor of Ryan Fitzpatrick when the Alabama product struggled. While Flores justified both decisions as attempts to win games—and Fitzpatrick did indeed lead a comeback in Week 16 against the Las Vegas Raiders—it called into question why the veteran wasn't starting if the coach felt he was a better option when they needed yards through the air.
It's equally fair to wonder how those benchings affected Tagovailoa's confidence. Rookies at all positions are going to have a trial-and-error period, particularly at quarterback. Tagovailoa was also dealing with returning to football for the first time since suffering a serious hip injury that ended his college career.
The Dolphins' season-finale blowout loss to the Buffalo Bills only served to raise more questions about Tagovailoa, who threw three interceptions in the 56-26 blowout. Miami entered the weekend needing a win to clinch a playoff spot.
"I’d say for me there’s really no extra, added pressure. The expectation for myself is very high in how I perform and how I go out there and try to lead the guys to victory," Tagovailoa told reporters. "Obviously, this past weekend, I didn’t play to that standard. It’s more so me knowing that we’ve got to go out here and get the job done. If you can’t get the job done, then that’s on you. That’s on no one else."
The Dolphins own the third overall pick in April's draft, which owed to the speculation Miami could pull the plug on Tagovailoa after one season in favor of Justin Fields or Zach Wilson. That may have been an option if the Dolphins' pick (which comes via Houston) was No. 1 overall and would have landed them Trevor Lawrence, but it's far from a guarantee that either Fields or Wilson are even in Tagovailoa's class.
Miami will likely instead use its bevy of picks to fortify the roster around Tagovailoa. Giving him a weapon like Ja'Marr Chase or Devonta Smith could go a long way in figuring out whether he's a long-term option under center.