When Should Dolphins Name Tua Tagovailoa Their Starter?

Photo: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

The more things change, the more they stay the same for Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. The long-time NFL veteran is playing in his 16th NFL season in 2020 but just his second as a member of the Miami Dolphins. And he's now inevitably on the clock, because despite having more than a decade and a half of NFL experience at his disposal, Fitzpatrick has never played more than four seasons in a single place. That four-year tenure came in Buffalo, where Fitzpatrick posted a 20-33 record as the team's starting quarterback. The New York Jets are the only other team to grant Fitzpatrick more starts than the 14 he's now taken as a member of the Dolphins, but everyone in South Florida can feel the storm brewing.

Fitzpatrick will be well equipped to handle it, given as how he's persistently followed the same dizzying pattern throughout his NFL career. What storm?

Fitzpatrick is on the hot seat.

The Dolphins drafted superstar quarterback Tua Tagovailoa with the No. 5 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft and, after a three-interception performance against the New England Patriots to open the season for Fitzpatrick, some are already beginning to call for a change. And to a certain degree, those critics have a point. Fitzpatrick is entering into his 16th year as an NFL quarterback and his play persistently follows the same exact pattern.

  • Energize the team with his personality, intelligence, and infectious leadership
  • Produce outrageously fun results with his gunslinger mentality
  • Inevitably regress and see those same fun, risky throws turn into devastatingly frustrating turnovers
  • Get benched for a more high-ceiling quarterback
  • Pick a new team
  • Rinse, repeat

Indeed, Fitzpatrick's play over the final 10 games of the season for Miami in 2019 qualified as outrageously fun. On the ultimate underdog roster with the Dolphins in 2019, Fitzpatrick willed the Dolphins into a 5-4 finish to the season after starting winless in their first seven games. But with Tagovailoa now on the roster for the Dolphins, the tolerance for the devastating interception Fitzpatrick tossed just before the half in a 7-3 ballgame against New England won't be as flexible.

Nor should it be. With Tagovailoa operating in practice with zero limitations from a November 2019 dislocated hip, the Dolphins have the man pegged as the future franchise quarterback waiting in the wings. And if this offense is going to make rookie mistakes, it may as well make them with the actual rookie behind center.

Yet, the Dolphins must play their cards right with the installation of Tagovailoa. Ending the Fitzpatrick experience haphazardly does no one any good, not even Tagovailoa. So expect to continue to see Fitzpatrick behind center this weekend as the Dolphins face off against the Buffalo Bills in Week 2. From here, we can see Miami trend one of two directions.

If the Dolphins lose in Week 2 to Buffalo and then must go on the road for a short week and face the Jacksonville Jaguars, we may be on the brink of a change. Should Miami start the season 0-3 with Fitzpatrick at the helm, Dolphins coach Brian Flores will be looking for a catalyst. And while the Dolphins' run defense wasn't great in Week 1 against the Patriots, Miami scored just 11 points. That's not going to cut it in very many football games. An 0-3 start would mean Miami faces a 10-day stretch between football games—what better time to make a change than while having extra time to focus on the install and the game plan to get Tagovailoa ready to go.

But if Miami forces a win or two over the next 10 days between Buffalo and Jacksonville, Fitzpatrick will have relieved the pressure for now. But with tough contests awaiting in Seattle, San Francisco and Denver in the three weeks to follow, Miami's gauntlet of early-season contenders won't let up. If Miami sticks with Fitzpatrick beyond Week 3 because of a win, look for Week 7 to be a potential install point. The Dolphins would do Tagovailoa a disservice to install him into the lineup for Weeks 5 and 6 for road games against the 49ers or Broncos if they weren't going to make the change for Week 4. Week 7 is the next home game for Miami and it comes against a west coast team (the Los Angeles Chargers) who will have to travel all the way across the country for a 1 p.m. ET kickoff time on October 25.

Fitzpatrick's poor ball security in Week 1 paired with the team's loss to New England has many ready for the transition—mostly because the regression and benching is a tale as old as time with Fitzpatrick. If it snowballs, Miami won't wait. Flores proved that much when he benched Fitzpatrick last year after two games to open the season due to an anemic offense.

If Fitzpatrick can tread water and keep the Dolphins around .500, he'll probably have the benefit of the doubt. But Sunday's performance won't keep you at .500 and it won't keep Tagovailoa in Fitzpatrick's rear view mirror much longer.

Written By:

Kyle Crabbs

Director of Content

Director of Content & Senior NFL Draft Analyst for The Draft Network. Co-host of the Draft Dudes podcast. Former NDT Scouting Overlord.

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