It’s Tua Time in Miami, and the immediate question is why now? It was well known that 2020 first-round pick Tua Tagovailoa would eventually become the Miami Dolphins’ starting quarterback, but don’t forget this is coming off back-to-back blowout wins does not seem like an ideal time to switch things up.
Most would have been fine with Tagovailoa sitting for longer, or even all of the NFL season, and learning behind veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who had been playing very good football through six weeks. But after taking a step back, this move makes a lot more sense.
The way Dolphins coach Brian Flores has handled a difficult quarterback situation shows his plan will set Tagovailoa up for success. The timing of the decision comes as a surprise, but Flores’ process has seemingly always had the rookie QB as his top priority. Flores has watched Tagovailoa in practice, and if he deems him ready to start now, then the move might be well-timed.
But still, Flores resisted to cave to any outside pressure.
Flores did let Tagovailoa get his feet wet by inserting him into the game. Tagovailoa had five plays, two throws and a moment he’ll remember forever.
Then, when everyone felt Fitzpatrick was most secure in his starting job, Flores made the move to Tagovailoa. This wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment decision, either.
“Expect the unexpected from coach Flo,” one team source told ESPN.
One player told ESPN he was surprised by the move, but noted Tagovailoa keeps improving and he makes one or two “wow” highlight plays in practice every week.
The biggest thing to know about the Dolphins’ move is that it’s more about Tagovailoa’s development than Fitzpatrick’s play.
Fitzpatrick has been a great mentor to Tua
Fitzpatrick did nothing to lose his job. In fact, Fitzpatrick’s play would give every reason to believe he strengthened his grip on it. He ranks seventh in the NFL in QBR and he’s the most beloved player in the Dolphins’ locker room.
But everything about the 2020 season was about preparing for life with Tagovailoa as the starter and finding the ideal moment to make that transition. Although it’s a blow for Fitzpatrick to be benched while playing his best football of the season, Flores’ QB plan has never really been about him in the grand scheme of things. It has always been about Tagovailoa.
It will be 351 days since Tagovailoa’s scary, career-threatening hip injury when he makes his first pro start on Nov. 1 against the Los Angeles Rams (1 p.m. ET, Fox). Don’t underestimate the impact that anniversary has on the decision to start him.
Another factor to consider is the Dolphins are entering their Week 7 bye, which means two weeks to prepare. It’s worth wondering if Miami’s plan was always to start Tagovailoa after the bye week. That would mean it was initially scheduled for Week 11 before schedule changes happened because of the coronavirus impact.
A look at history related to Tua Tagovailoa starting
The Dolphins’ move is reminiscent of the 2004 New York Giants benching Kurt Warner, who was playing well and had led his team to a 5-4 record in the first half of the season, for rookie Eli Manning.
The Manning-led Giants struggled, going 1-6 the rest of the way and missing the playoffs. Manning threw more interceptions than touchdowns, but the experience was invaluable. Manning led the Giants to the playoffs each of the next four seasons, including two NFC East titles and a Super Bowl championship.
It’s possible and maybe even likely the Dolphins’ offense takes a step back initially with Tua Tagovailoa starting his first career game in the NFL. Miami has two rookies, right guard Solomon Kindley and right tackle Robert Hunt, protecting Tagovailoa’s blind side. Although the offensive line is much improved through six games, Fitzpatrick did a lot to cover up its faults.
Fitzpatrick has been a great teammate
Another impact on how this transition has played out? The Dolphins are ecstatic to have Fitzpatrick in the fold to show Tagovailoa the way. Fitzpatrick will support him and teach him, and that’s a rare trait in today’s NFL. That dynamic between the experienced QB and the rookie has had a big impact on how this has all played out.
Talk about a great teammate in Fitzpatrick. How many journeymen quarterbacks with little time left in the NFL would be happy to do what Fitz has? Not many, I’m sure.
Flores believes this is the right time for Tagovailoa, and it makes more sense. The Dolphins (3-3) are in the thick of the playoff race and it will be invaluable to get their rookie QB the experience he needs. This is a franchise in a rebuild with promises to prioritize the long-term over the short-term outlook.
Tagovailoa is the Dolphins’ most talented quarterback and biggest star since Pro Football Hall of Famer Dan Marino. And this is before he has even started a game.
Tua Time begins in a bit of a surprising way, but early indications are the rookie quarterback ready for success.
This article was first published by ESPN.