Much has been made recently of the notion that the Dolphins are giving rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa an “audition” over the balance of the season. Coach Brian Flores has bristled at the characterization, but it would hardly be the first time that a football coach said what he had to say, when he had to say it.
Flores can’t and won’t say that Tua’s performance over the rest of the season will be a factor in decisions made about the position in the offseason. Frankly, Flores doesn’t need to. The decision to bench Ryan Fitzpatrick for Tua says it all.
There’s a chance Flores made the decision based solely on the belief that the team has a better chance of winning games with Tua than Fitzpatrick. There’s also a chance the organization feels compelled to see what it has in Tua because it will have two first-round picks in 2021, including the first-round pick currently held by the 1-6 Texans.
Given the value of a true, short-list franchise quarterback, the Dolphins must figure out whether Tua can be one of those players or whether the long-term interests of the team would be better served by using the Houston pick on Trevor Lawrence or Justin Fields, or by packaging both selections for a trade up to get one of them.
In today’s NFL, it’s not enough to have a quarterback who is “good enough.” Every team wants a quarterback who is great.
That’s why there are three types of teams in the NFL. Those that have a short-list franchise quarterback, those that are desperately searching for one, and those that have a quarterback who hasn’t yet done enough to show whether he’ll become a franchise quarterback, or not.
The Dolphins, like many teams, sit in the third category. They need to know whether Tua can push them behind Door No. 1 before deciding whether the take a shot at Lawrence or Fields, if the Dolphins conclude that one of them can be a true franchise quarterback.
This weekend, the Dolphins play a team that did just that. In 2018, the Cardinals traded up to No. 10 to get Josh Rosen. Then came the opportunity to get Kyler Murray. And then Rosen was dumped onto the Dolphins for a second-round pick. (And then a year later the Dolphins dumped Rosen for nothing.)
Although the Dolphins may not be able to answer the question after one season for Tua, the Dolphins need to have all available information before deciding whether to make a play for Lawrence or Fields. That hinges on playing Tua and deciding whether he’s on track to be a 15-to-20-year answer at the position, one that makes the Dolphins a consistent contender, and an eventual champion.