Just over a week ago, it was reported that journeyman and fan (as well as locker room) favorite Ryan Fitzpatrick would be going to the bench in favor of highly touted rookie Tua Tagovailoa. The Dolphins had famously “tanked for Tua” and took him with the number 5 overall pick in this year’s draft. Tua had an amazing college career with Alabama (though tragically cut short by injury), and it was clear that he would inherit the keys to this ’87 Oldsmobile of a franchise from Fitzpatrick sooner rather than later.
However, was just after week 7 of his rookie season the right time? A season in which the Dolphins have been shockingly relevant (at 3-3 they are, let’s say, mediocre plus) and will likely push for a playoff spot? Not only had Fitzpatrick clearly developed as a much needed leader on the team, with the support the locker room as well as an invigorated fanbase coming off of decades of sub mediocrity, but he was playing pretty strong football, throwing 10 TD’s and rushing for 2 more in 6 games, with an outstanding 70% completion rate.
Predictably, his Harvard educated decision making has been inconsistent and his reputation as a somewhat reckless gunslinger has continued strong, as shown by his 7 picks, but leading a team that, just one year ago, was widely considered to be “the worst team ever” on paper (and on the verge of a complete collapse or team wide walk out) to an 8 and 11 record over the past year and a half is more of an impressive feat that Fitzpatrick is being given credit for.
Through his career, Ryan Fitzpatrick has shown many flashes of greatness (including the Jets all-time record for single season touchdown passes) in between deep dives into inefficiency and knuckleheadery (see season 2 with the Jets after an embarrassing hold out), and in this case I truly believe the Dolphins should have kept riding the hot hand of the Fitzmagic carpet this year.
Several players had expressed their support and love for Fitzpatrick this year (something that he also achieved over the years in previous Tampa Bay, New York and Buffalo). Of course, winning football is not a popularity contest, but having a leader at the quarterback position is vital, and Fitzpatrick has done as good a job of leading and contributing to a positive, competitive culture in Miami as anyone since Dan Marino threw in the towel more than two decades ago (no offense Jay Fiedler or Chad Pennington). This is especially vital for a young team rising from the ashes of a rebuild as the Dolphins are currently fighting to do. There is a reason why, since the Tua announcement was made, several quarterback deficient, injury-riddled or bottom dwelling squads have come up in rumors to acquire Fitzpatrick to bail them out (the Cowboys in particular).
Most importantly, Tua was in the absolute ideal position for a rookie quarterback to develop, let alone one coming off a career threatening injury in college (a dislocated hip and posterior wall fracture, yikes). Despite being a number 5 pick in the draft, Tua had ZERO pressure to perform at this moment, watching his team have surprising success while learning from an intelligent, personable 16 year veteran who has seen the best and worst of the game. The fans were happy, the players were motivated, Tua was learning and growing healthier by the week, and the team was even winning games (with back to back wins in which Fitzpatrick had a 6 to 2 touchdown to interception ratio).
Fast forward to the present, and Fitzpatrick, after finding out second hand through social media of his own benching, and learning his children found out from their classmates, is devastated, feeling he lost a team that was “his” for just the second time in his career, the first since he had a crack at franchise quarterbacking in Buffalo. The media is divided on head coach Brian Flores’ decision, as are the fans, and I have to imagine the team is as well (though the response of the players aside from Fitzpatrick has been quiet up to now). Either way, this is clearly a distraction that has blown up into a national story (I couldn’t care less about Miami sports, and here I am 700 words deep into this post), for a team that has little margin for error if they want to make a run this season.
We will have to wait and see how Tua plays, and the impact he has on the team’s record. For all I know, they go undefeated the rest of the way, Tua makes a run for rookie of the year as well as MVP, and you will all see why I describe this site as “poorly researched” after all, but I doubt it. I predict that we will be Monday morning quarterbacking this decision every week, each time Tua loses, asking “what could Fitzmagic have done?” Or worst case scenario, should Tua get hurt again this year after abruptly replacing a quarterback who was playing career ball, what the hell was the point? If the wheels really fall off, and Fitzpatrick is called back into action, how much damage will that do to Tua’s confidence, and the faith in Flores and the coaching staff (who, until this scenario, I thought were doing everything right).
Tua just went from the perfect “watch and learn” year one scenario to an absolute pressure cooker of a debut. I think Tua has potential to be great, but this suddenly feels like a very Cleveland Brownsy situation, and I would hate to see Tua go the way of the countless talented young quarterbacks ruined by an impatient, dysfunctional franchise (RIP Deshone Kizer’s career).
In all honesty, I am probably biased. I have grown up in Upstate NY and developed a fondness for Ryan Fitzpatrick’s goofball baddassery in both his tenures with the Bills and Jets. I hate to see him go out this way, when he had potential of leading a formerly downtrodden team into the playoffs before amicably passing the torch to the next franchise quarterback, and riding into the sunset with his 35 kids and well-manicured beard to see what his Harvard degree brings for his next career move.
Here’s hoping everything works out for Tua, Flores, and the upstart Dolphins, but I can’t help but wish this played out differently for everyone involved, especially Fitz.
Agree? Disagree? Couldn’t care less, let me know! As always, thanks for reading!