By promoting Tua Tagovailoa, the Dolphins move into new era with bold playoff expectations

Dan Wetzel
·Columnist
·4 min read

For 30 years, the Miami Dolphins were among the premier franchises in the NFL. From 1970-2000, there were 24 winning seasons, 20 postseason appearances, five Super Bowls and two championships, including the league’s only perfect season. They never won fewer than six games.

Don Shula. Bob Griese. Dan Marino. Larry Csonka.

That was the Dolphins.

Since then, there has not been a single playoff victory. There have been just three wild-card bids, which they lost by a noncompetitive average of 26-8. The Dolphins weren’t always terrible. They were just mediocre, mismanaged and poorly coached. There were plenty of 8-8 and 7-9 seasons that slowly sapped the life out of the place.

If there is one thing you can’t be in Miami, it’s boring.

Here came Tuesday, however. Miami is sitting at 3-3 and in second place of an AFC East that hasn’t been so open since Tom Brady began playing in New England. It has won two consecutive games with veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick running the show. The Dolphins were respectable. The Dolphins were progressing.

And then, coach Brian Flores announced that coming off this week’s bye, Tua Tagovailoa, the No. 5 pick in the 2020 NFL draft, will take over as the starting quarterback. It’ll be Tua against the Los Angeles Rams on Nov. 1.

Tua Tagovailoa will get his chance to shine under the Miami spotlights with the Dolphins poised to make an aggressive playoff push. (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Tua Tagovailoa will get his chance to shine under the Miami spotlights with the Dolphins poised to make an aggressive playoff push. (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

This was bold. This was aggressive. This was how Miami used to do things, with an attitude that expects to win.

There was no imminent need for the decision. Fitzpatrick was playing well, with six touchdowns in the past two games. The team was plus-47 in scoring on the season.

Flores thinks Tagovailoa has more potential though. Not just long-term against the 37-year-old journeyman, but right now. He’ll use the bye to prep his 22-year-old.

Tua has just two career NFL pass attempts (both completions). They came in mop-up duty in Sunday’s 24-0 victory against the hapless New York Jets. It doesn’t matter. He has a world of talent, poise and maturity, which was clear to everyone during his starring days at the University of Alabama.

If not for a hip injury suffered late last season, he could have been the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 draft. If Cincinnati had taken LSU’s Joe Burrow anyway, then Tagovailoa would have gone second.

Miami scooped him up at five, and rode Fitzpatrick to buy some time for healing, development and keeping expectations at bay. It’s clear the coaching staff believes it has worked. He must have looked very good in practice. If he’s healthy, he could be great.

Whether this works, whether this is too soon, remains to be seen. If nothing else, though, Miami is suddenly a team to be seen.

Tagovailoa has the potential to be a huge star, especially in a city that has lacked one since Dwyane Wade’s retirement from the NBA’s Miami Heat. He is the modern quarterback, fleet of foot, with a strong arm and capable of all sorts of creativity. Nothing against FitzMagic, which brings its own form of enjoyment, but this could be a jolt to the system.

That’s why they drafted him. If he’s ready, why wait?

Buffalo leads the AFC East at 4-2, but is coming off consecutive losses. New England, which has owned the place for two decades, is 2-3. The Jets are just cannon fodder. Why not Miami? Why not now?

Miami botched the last good quarterback it had, Ryan Tannehill. He’s now playing brilliantly in Tennessee.

Flores is determined to not make the same mistakes from the Adam Gase era. Last year was a teardown to 5-11. This year was expected to be a rebuild of sorts. Only six weeks in, there is comfort in accelerating everything. You don’t move Tagovailoa into the starting role unless you’re thinking playoffs.

That was the way Miami always did things. Then it all fell apart.

Either way, it’s worth watching now. It’s something exciting. For the Dolphins of the 21st century, that’s saying something.

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