The Miami Dolphins made headlines last week when they surprisingly announced they will be replacing starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick with rookie Tua Tagovailoa, who will make his NFL debut this weekend. It’s a surprising move because Fitzpatrick has been playing quite well and the Dolphins at 3-3 are in a position to make the playoffs this season. This week, we debate whether or not the Dolphins are making a mistake in replacing the solid journeyman with the unproven rookie.
I’m going to say it is a mistake because Fitzpatrick has been playing some of the best football of his career in Miami dating back to the end of last season. He is not an elite quarterback, but he’s playing well enough to win you some games and that’s what the Dolphins need. The AFC East is up for grabs with the New England Patriots’ fall from glory, and with the expansion of the playoffs this year, a 9-7 record will almost certainly be enough to play January football. I think Fitzpatrick has shown that he can lead the Dolphins to at least nine wins this year. He’s completing over 70% of his passes for the first time in his career, and his 95.0 passer rating is one of the highest of his career. So I feel like Miami should just ride the hot hand and see where Fitzpatrick can take them. He’s only had one really bad game this season against the Patriots in Week 1. Since then, Fitzpatrick has accounted for 12 touchdowns (10 passing, two rushing) and has thrown just four interceptions while leading the Dolphins to three wins in that time. Fitzpatrick may not be amazing, but you know what you’re getting out of him, compared to Tagovailoa, who is a complete wild card.
The public has had a sudden change of heart as it relates to Ryan Fitzpatrick, no longer viewing him as a decent, gritty, hard-working second option, but now as a perennial talent who’s going to return the Miami Dolphins to glory. Before I even address this delusional take, we need to first begin with the notion that head coach Brian Flores is looking to win this year. That is simply false. No matter how open the division is, the 2020 season serves one purpose and one purpose only: The development of their franchise quarterback, Tua Tagovailoa. This was the plan since they drafted him in April of 2020, and yes, the team has unexpectedly become one of the favorites to win the AFC East. However, this cannot change the purpose of the season, as winning with the future is much better than winning with a player who will most likely be gone in the next couple of years. Now, let’s return to the weird idolization of a man who has never made the postseason. A player who — in his 16-season career — has only surpassed a completion percentage of 69 once, and that is this season (it’s worth noting he’s only done it through six games, and not 16). Finally, Tagovailoa’s Passing Efficiency Rating of 199.4 is the second most in college football history behind Joe Burrow; “FitzMagic” has never come close to this number, with his highest in a 16-game season being 88.
I don’t have a problem with the move itself as much as I have a problem with the timing of it. If you wanted to commit to the future and forget about trying to win this year, you should have started Tua over Fitzpatrick to start the season or after Fitzpatrick’s three-pick blunder in Week 1. That didn’t happen. They gave Fitzpatrick a chance to redeem himself, which he has done and now has the Dolphins in position to make the playoffs, something they’ve done just once in the last 11 seasons. So while you’re saying they shouldn’t be playing to win, I don’t think the Dolphins can afford to be picky with when they choose to play to win. There is a window of opportunity to have some success this year, and Fitzpatrick is the guy right now. If he starts to stink again, then replace him with Tagovailoa, but why not stick with what’s working right now? Waiting to play Tagovailoa isn’t sacrificing your future. In fact, even if this Fitzmagic continues this year and Tagovailoa waits a year to play, we’ve seen how much good that can do (think Aaron Rodgers or Patrick Mahomes). Tua is the future. Everybody knows that, including Fitzpatrick. But Fitzpatrick is playing well right now, so why not keep him in until he does otherwise? Especially when you’re not gaining anything by putting in Tua prematurely. The move makes sense at some point, but not right now.
Addressing your first point, I still stick by the notion that this great run of form fell into the arms of the organization. This isn’t to say head coach Brian Flores and his coaching staff haven’t done enough to change the culture in the Dolphins dressing room, but it’s more an indictment on missing pieces throughout the squad, and especially at the quarterback position. Fitzpatrick was so “good” last year that Miami finished last in the AFC East at 5-11. As a result, I think they — like all other teams in the NFL — went into the season wanting to win, but it was not their first priority. They knew “Fitzmagic” could be a massive liability so they were willing to take the risk and play Tagovailoa week seven, no matter the outcome of the first six games. This notion can be supported by the fact that Flores began his career in Foxborough as a scouting assistant in 2004, and was working towards becoming a general manager before ever thinking about coaching a squad, which strongly insinuates that the decisions he makes are done weeks or even months in advance. He knew when Tua was going to debut, and nothing was going to change that. Now, moving on to your second point, the redshirt strategy is definitely effective for some. The problem is, those two quarterbacks are some of the best of all time. Although these respective organizations might have had great management and a solid strategy, they ultimately got lucky, as attaining this type of talent is few-and-far between. The chances of Tagovailoa being one of the greatest football players in history is unlikely, even with the promise he shows. This is why I believe it’s not worth waiting; the Dolphins must put him in now and build for the future.