Unlike the San Francisco 49 situation with Joe Montana and Steve Young in the 1990s and the Green Bay Packers with Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers, the Miami Dolphins have a healthy quarterback room. Yes, the team selected Tua Tagovailoa with the fifth overall selection in April’s draft with the hopes of becoming the Dolphins starting quarterback sooner rather than later, but they don’t need to rush the rookie out on the field.
That’s because Miami has a veteran quarterback in Ryan Fitzpatrick who is willing to tutor Tagovailoa on and off of the field. Although Fitzpatrick wants to start in the final year of his contract, this isn’t an unfamiliar situation for him.
During his eight stops in the NFL, Fitzpatrick has never been the team’s franchise quarterback. He has either been the quarterback, who came in to relieve a less than ideal situation, or a stop-gap until that team finds another option. Now, at 37-years-old, Fitzpatrick will be a mentor for Tagovailoa until he becomes the Dolphins starter.
“So for me, I’ve been in this situation before a little bit,” Fitzpatrick said in a conference call with reporters. “I just try to go in every day and be myself. Even in the Zoom meetings right now, I just be myself. I’m an open book and try to make sure that they know and are comfortable with coming to me with questions. I’m also going to express my opinions and thoughts on plays that we are watching and 2-minute drives. We’ve been going over some of that stuff, and my mind and the process and how I think through it, right or wrong, just to provide some perspective. I’m excited for him to be here. I loved watching him play in college. I think he’s going to be an awesome addition to the team for a long time.”
Selected in the seventh round coming out of Harvard in 2005, Fitzpatrick just barely made the roster as the St. Louis Rams third-string quarterback. But as a rookie, Fitzpatrick made his first appearance as a rookie in a Week 12 contest against the Houston Texans. While it took him some time to become a starter, Fitzpatrick finally made his mark with the Buffalo Bills in 2010 after then head coach Chan Gailey made him the starting quarterback.
Fitzpatrick threw for 3,000 yards, 23 touchdowns and 15 interceptions in 13 starts for the Bills. Flashback to now, Fitzpatrick will be reunited with his former Bills head coach as Gailey was named the Dolphins offensive coordinator earlier this year. The two were also together when Fitzpatrick was the quarterback of the Jets, and Gailey was the offensive coordinator.
Fitzpatrick says he will always be grateful for the opportunity Gailey gave to him a decade ago.
“I think being in his system for five years and a couple of different teams with a bunch of personnel, Chan was really the first guy to truly believe in me and gave me my shot as a starter,” Fitzpatrick said. “I’ve just always wanted to prove him right and to play well for him. He’s the guy that allows players to play to their strengths, he’s got an offense that is not very complicated to learn, but very complicated for defenses in the way it is presented to them. He does a great job utilizing different guy’s talents and putting them in position to succeed. Not necessarily telling them there is a certain way to do it, but allowing them some freedom and some creativity within certain constraints, to do the best job that they can. I think guys have enjoyed playing for him for that reason. I’ve got a ton of confidence and trust in him, and I know he feels that same way about me.”
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Miami has made several roster changes this offseason with the hopes of winning the AFC East for the first time since 2008. With Tom Brady now playing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the division is wide open for the first time in an eternity. But with COVID-19 pandemic, teams haven’t been able to build that chemistry through OTAs and minicamps like in previous seasons.
Fitzpatrick says it is difficult to know precisely how good the Dolphins can be with a lot of new players.
“There are a lot of new faces, a lot of youth, so with that, you want to get on the field, you want to start practicing, you want to start learning the system and learning each other,” Fitzpatrick said. “I think they’ve evaluated this team. They got to watch 16 games last year and figure out what they liked and what they didn’t like. For us as players, we just sit back and hope we can be a part of it. We trust that they are doing the right thing and bringing in the right guys. The holdovers, or the guys that are still here, are the guys they obviously liked last year and have some of the right attributes and some of the right things they are looking for. Having the fifth pick in the draft, obviously, it wasn’t a successful year last year; but I think there is some stuff that happened that we can really build on. With these new guys coming in, bringing them up to speed and making sure their mentality fits what we are trying to get done, that will be important for us. It’s been tough on those Zoom meetings, but we are doing the best we can with what we have.”
Tagovailoa is the shiny new toy that everyone can wait to see out on the field. But the Dolphins have to play this intelligently. Players loved playing with Fitzpatrick, especially later on in the season, as the team finished 5-4 in their last nine games.
Tagovailoa will have many years to become the face of the Dolphins franchise, but Fitzpatrick should be the team’s starter at least to begin the season. No matter how this plays out, the Dolphins have an ideal situation at the quarterback position.