INDIANAPOLIS — If the Miami Dolphins learned anything last season, it’s the value of a good backup quarterback.
On five occasions in 2022, their starting quarterback was unable to finish the game he started. The most notable was on Sept. 29, when Tua Tagovailoa suffered a concussion against the Cincinnati Bengals and missed the next two games. He also left the loss in San Francisco on Dec. 4 because of an ankle injury. Tagovailoa suffered another concussion in Week 16 against the Green Bay Packers and missed the final three games, including the wild-card playoff loss to the Buffalo Bills.
Teddy Bridgewater, who will be an unrestricted free agent when the league year begins on March 15, started two games, but the concussion protocol and a broken finger prevented him from finishing either contest. When he did play, Bridgewater struggled at times, throwing four touchdowns and four interceptions.
Skylar Thompson started in place of Bridgewater in Week 6, but Thompson suffered a thumb injury and couldn’t finish.
It’s no wonder Miami general manager Chris Grier said Wednesday at the NFL combine that he and coach Mike McDaniel already have discussed the backup quarterback position. And coincidentally, two quarterbacks with extensive starting experience have become available, as the Washington Commanders released Carson Wentz and the Atlanta Falcons Marcus Mariota.
“Yeah, we’ve had some preliminary talks, Mike and I, just about the guy to come in and to be the right guy to fit for this offense and what we’re doing,” Grier said. “Every player is on the table. We’ll talk about every one of them.
“We’ve talked about a couple of them already. But we’ll keep turning it over and try and find the right guy to come in. And the good thing is, I think a lot of people want to come in. They see the excitement of the offense and what Mike’s done. I know the Heisman winner (USC’s Caleb Williams) made some noise with his tweet about wanting to play for Miami, which is always pretty cool because they see what Mike has done and his coaching staff has done offensively for us.”
Thompson is Miami’s only backup QB under contract for 2023. He started three games last season, including the Dolphins’ must-win regular-season finale against the New York Jets and their playoff loss. The 2022 seventh-round pick was impressive given the circumstances, but he isn’t yet at a level where the Dolphins can call him their unquestioned backup.
“When you assess Skylar’s play as a rookie, he did a lot of things to deserve to be in competition and to have an open mind to him being — to winning the backup quarterback role,” McDaniel said Tuesday. “I don’t foresee that being unchallenged by any stretch.”
Questions about Tagovailoa’s development heading into last season prompted the signing of a steady veteran such as Bridgewater, but with Tagovailoa taking a major step forward in 2022, the Dolphins aren’t in a dire need for a mentor in the quarterback room. Considering Tagovailoa’s injury history, however, it would still be a smart move to add a high-caliber player who could keep the ship afloat should he miss time next season.
But would either Mariota or Wentz be content to enter the season as a backup?
The Dolphins are projected to enter the offseason $16 million over the salary cap, according to Over The Cap, although they can clear space with a series of contract restructurings and roster moves.
With five picks in this year’s draft, it’s more likely they add a quarterback through free agency. Signing a veteran would be the more efficient use of their capital, particularly in the event Thompson wins the backup job outright.
“As it stands right now, I was happy with what Skylar was able to do under the pretense that he’s going to continue to get better, and I think Tua is in a different spot,” McDaniel said. “I think the team is in a different spot.
“There’s some competitive advantages that we can bring to the room through free agency, and that’s what we’ll look to do … there will be competition, regardless, in the room, regardless of who we sign — but I think that’s something that we’re definitely interested in to make the quarterback room better.”