That’s the main question Miami Dolphins players found themselves asking each other when the news about a change being made at quarterback for the team they played for scrolled across their television, or their social media timeline.
Then group messages erupted among them.
Everyone in the organization — including former starter Ryan Fitzpatrick — knew Tua Time was eventually coming. All it took was one bad performance for Fitzpatrick, an injury, or a losing streak for Miami’s coaches to justify pushing Tua Tagovailoa into the starting lineup.
The players knew this.
Tagovailoa is expected to be this franchise’s savior, the next great Dolphins quarterback since Dan Marino, and with Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert playing well why shouldn’t the Dolphins take Tagavailoa out for a spin before the roster is depleted by injuries, or COVID-19 shuts down the season?
Isn’t he supposed to be just as good, if not better, than those two who were also top picks in April’s NFL draft?
That’s the hope, and Tagovailoa has done nothing to extinguish those dreams in his six months since Miami selected him fifth overall in the 2020 draft.
But Fitzpatrick had been playing well. He’s been the main catalyst behind Miami’s three wins, and is the alpha male of this locker room.
According to Dolphins players who spoke on the condition of anonymity, Tagovailoa was doing “alright” in practices. He wasn’t disappointing, but his weekly reps weren’t eye-opening, indicating that a change was needed.
One offensive player guessed that Tagovailoa had a mastery of about 40% of the offense.
“It’s not bad, but he’s not Fitz,” the player said.
However, when running Miami’s scout team offense — practicing against Miami’s first-team defense — Tagovailoa apparently has had a habit of holding onto the ball too long.
That’s the main criticism that Alabama coach Nick Saban had about his finest quarterback prospect, and a defensive player expressed concern that “he can get hurt playing like that. This is the NFL! These boys are big, fast and hungry. He’s out there looking like a snack.”
It doesn’t help that the first defense Tagovailoa will face happens to feature Aaron Donald, a quarterback-eating defensive lineman. The Los Angeles Rams have the best defensive front Miami’s developing, but far-from-polished offensive line will face all season.
And now they must protect a rookie quarterback, running what will likely be an evolving offense that suits Tagovailoa, who is playing with a hip that was surgically repaired nearly 12 months ago.
Fitzpatrick was a kickstand that held up this Dolphins team, and now the players will have to see if Tagovailoa can have that same impact and bring the same magic that got Fitzpatrick nicknamed Fitzmagic.
And if the answer to that question is no, then why make the change now?
That was the main question players found themselves asking one another about the franchise’s quarterback shift because it made them feel like the organization was pulling the plug on the 2020 season in order to invest in 2021, and beyond.
While that might not sit well with the players, it is without a doubt the right approach for this franchise to take because this season wasn’t originally about making a playoff push. It’s the second-year of a massive rebuild, and the goal is to build a solid foundation around Tagovailoa that lasts a decade.
The odds of that foundation being built successfully increases if the quarterback it is being built for is actually behind center, developing chemistry with his weapons, and learning how to make the line calls by reading the defense and checking into the right plays.
The Dolphins could have waited until Fitzpatrick lost a few more games, but why not let him enter the mentor phase of his career on a high note. He’ll continue to teach Tagovailoa, and work with offesnive coordinator Chan Gailey to fine tune the offense for his young protege.
Fitzpatrick knows the cycle of life for a journeyman quarterback, so he knew this time would come.
He’s just surprised coach Brian Flores and the Dolphins are taking their 3-3 record and cashing out so early, and using these next 10 games to invest Tagovailoa’s future, hoping to reap favorable returns over the next decade.
While it might involve some tough times this season, the focus is clearly on the long play.
“We just put all our trust in Flo and the coaching staff. If he says Tua is the man to lead us we’re going to support him,” Dolphins linebacker Jerome Baker said Wednesday. “We’re going to come together as a team, back him up, and do what we have to do to win games.”
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