The Dolphins haven’t gone into significant depth or detail regarding the decision to reward quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick for a pair of victories over the 49ers and Jets with the combined score of 67-17 by benching him for Tua Tagovailoa. On Friday’s PFT PM, Charean Williams offered an interesting thought: Maybe the switch always was going to be made during the bye week.
The original schedule made Miami’s bye the gap between a pair of Jets games. The convoluted Broncos-Patriots reshuffling moved the off week up by two weeks. It also put the Rams on the other side of the break.
It’s hardly ideal for Tua to be getting his first career start with Aaron Donald breathing down the neck of the fifth overall pick in the draft. With three lower body injuries in three seasons at Alabama and plenty of hits taken by Tua at the college level, he (and the rest of us) may find out right away whether he can hold up under the physical demands of the NFL.
Regardless, with no offseason program and no preseason games and a very different kind of year in general, it’s entirely possible that the Dolphins made a strategic decision before the season began that the annual two-week hiatus would become the starting point for Tua. The strategy could have become the product of an internal negotiation among those who argued for giving Tua the job from Week One and those who preferred, given the unusual circumstances of the 2020 season, to wait.
It would be naive to assume that the owner’s preference had no influence over the timetable for Tua, especially since plenty of people around the league believe owner Stephen Ross wanted to emerge from the 2020 draft with a franchise quarterback. Given that Cincinnati refused all overtures aimed at giving Miami a crack at Joe Burrow, Tua became the fallback.
With Burrow and the guy on whom the Dolphins passed — Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert — looking great so far, there’s even more reason to go with Tua now, regardless of any and all momentum that Fitzpatrick had been building.
It could be, of course, that coach Brian Flores simply has decided based on everything he has seen during practice and meetings that Tua gives them a better chance to build on a 3-3 start to the season. Last year, when the long-term interests of the franchise pointed to giving Josh Rosen an extended opportunity to show that he can be a franchise quarterback, Flores quickly reversed course, going with Fitzpatrick as the guy because Fitzpatrick gave the team a better chance to win.
The fact that the 11 days since the news of Tua taking over have included no reports of player dissatisfaction with the decision suggests that the veterans who prefer to win now don’t believe that the switch to the rookie compromises that objective. Coupled with public praise from players like defensive lineman Shaq Lawson and tight end Mike Gesicki, this suggests they’re all on board with it — unless of course Flores already has gotten full control over any and all potentially dissenting voices in the locker room, like Flores’ mentor in New England.
Whatever the reason for the change, it will be hard to go back to Fitzpatrick if Tua struggles. This looks and feels like an all-in effort to find out what Tua can do.
There’s another reason for doing that: The Dolphins hold Houston’s first-round pick in the 2021 draft, and at 1-6 Houston is in contention for a top-five selection. Miami could be in prime position to draft another franchise quarterback in April. To best know whether to take or pass on a guy like Trevor Lawrence or Justin Fields, the Dolphins need to first know whether they’ve landed a keeper in Tua.
That process begins on Sunday.