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Dolphins planned to pursue Sean Payton, Tom Brady for 2022

In the short window between when Brian Flores was fired by the Dolphins and when he filed his lawsuit, Miami was ready to pursue Sean Payton and Tom Brady for the 2022 season, according to sources.

The Miami Dolphins are moving forward with Mike McDaniel as the head coach and, for now, Tua Tagovailoa as the starting quarterback. At one point after the end of the 2021 season, however, the Dolphins explored a different approach.

Per multiple sources, and as first revealed on Monday’s PFT Live, the Dolphins planned to pursue Sean Payton to be the coach and Tom Brady to be the starting quarterback. The plan was scrapped after Brian Flores filed his lawsuit against the NFL generally and the Dolphins, Giants, and Broncos specifically.

On the record, Dolphins declined comment. Team sources who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issues confirmed that the team contacted the Saints to seek permission to speak to Payton. The Saints, per Dolphins sources, declined the request, which they contend was made after Payton resigned on Tuesday, January 25 but before Flores filed his lawsuit one week later.

By rule, the Dolphins first would have had to reach an agreement with the Saints as to potential compensation for hiring Payton. Once an agreement had been reached, the Dolphins then would have had to work out an agreement directly with Payton.

As to Brady, Dolphins sources contend that internal discussions occurred regarding the possibility of adding Brady as a minority owner, but that those considerations currently are on hold. The delay, per Dolphins sources, has nothing to do with the lawsuit; it’s more about the uncertain status of Brady’s retirement from playing. Once it’s clear he’s not coming back to play for the Buccaneers or some other team, the plan for selling a piece of the team to Brady could proceed.

Rumors have persisted for two years regarding Brady’s potential involvement with the Dolphins, either as a player or as a partial owner. The connection arises from Brady’s friendship with Bruce Beal, a significant limited partner who is poised to eventually purchase the team from Stephen Ross. Indeed, as Brady approached free agency in 2020, the Patriots were very concerned that Brady would join the Dolphins as a player -- with partial ownership on the table.

It’s unclear whether and to what extent either Payton or Brady were actually aware of the plan to pursue them. It’s hard to imagine that the Dolphins would have made a blind request for permission to pursue Payton without Payton being interested. As to Brady, the fact that he’s reportedly (and indeed is) the unnamed quarterback with whom Ross allegedly tried to get Flores to tamper in 2020 makes another run at Brady not a ludicrous thought, especially since the Dolphins have put together a team that has finished two straight seasons above .500, but with no playoff appearances.

Brady remains on the Tampa Bay roster, and he’ll stay there until June 2, at the earliest. Any move made before then would trigger a $32 million cap charge in 2022 for the Buccaneers. After June 2, a retirement or a trade would push the bulk of the cap charge to 2023.

Although Brady has said he’s done playing, few believe it. Whether it’s with the Buccaneers or someone else, he could return as soon as 2022. That could happen with the Dolphins, depending on whether the Dolphins make some other move at quarterback between now and then. Until the Dolphins acquire a new quarterback, their top option will continue to be Tagovailoa.