No team had a more mercurial quarterback situation in 2020 than the Dolphins, who played both Ryan Fitzpatrick in the role of seasoned veteran and Tua Tagovailoa, the No. 5 overall pick in the NFL draft and Miami’s quarterback of the future.
Fitzpatrick understood Tagovailoa would ultimately take over as the team’s starting quarterback, but said he was “floored” when the Dolphins made the move as early as the team’s Week 8 game vs. the Rams. The revelation is part of a longer piece with The Athletic.
Fitzpatrick learned of coach Brian Flores’ decision during Miami’s bye week, after coming off games against the 49ers and Jets in which he combined to complete 40 of 55 passes (72.7 percent) for 541 yards and six touchdowns to two interceptions. Tagovailoa to that point had appeared only in mop-up duty in those two games, completing 14 of 24 passes for 102 yards and a score.
MORE: Mac Jones aces eye test in Patriots preseason debut, makes case to start at QB over Cam Newton
“I have a ton of respect for (coach Brian Flores), and we have a very good relationship,” Fitzpatrick told The Athletic. “But I thought it was a joke at first. We’re putting Tua in? I was floored.
“That was my team,” he added. “I fought through the s— with those guys. I get the way that the NFL works. I get it. But to have it happen the way it did. …”
Fitzpatrick wasn’t the only one shocked by Flores’ decision. Former offensive coordinator Chan Gailey, whom the Dolphins hired before the start of the season — and who was fired after its conclusion — said he was confused by the decision as well. Per The Athletic, he only found out about the decision a few hours before Fitzpatrick did.
“I was in total shock,” Gailey said. “We didn’t even have a preseason. It was a totally new offense (for Tua). We were just starting to hit our stride. We’d won two in a row and scored a bunch of points and moved the ball well. It came as a shock to me.”
It certainly didn’t help that Tagovailoa, who had no rookie offseason and was coming off a significant hip injury that ended his college career at Alabama, did not perform as well as his veteran counterpart. That was only exacerbated when it appeared the Dolphins, buoyed by excellent defensive play, were well ahead of schedule in their rebuild and were actually capable of making the playoffs.
Tagovailoa started every game from Week 8 on — the one exception a Week 12 game at the Jets — and finished the season completing 186 of 290 passes for 1,814 yards and 11 touchdowns to five interceptions. He went 6-3 as a starter, but demonstrated issues with the team’s playbook at times. That led Flores to pull him in games against Denver and, most notably, the Raiders, a decision rooted in Fitzpatrick’s mastery of two-minute drills.
MORE: Dolphins’ Tua Tagovailoa ‘wasn’t comfortable calling plays’ during his rookie season
The Dolphins finished 10-6, just one game out of the playoffs, after a 56-26 drubbing by the Bills in Week 17.
Despite his displeasure at being benched, Fitzpatrick said he gave his full and public support of Tagovailoa, even telling others on the team with similar opinions they needed to back the rookie quarterback.
“It’s also hard on them, the guy stepping into the role,” Fitzpatrick said. “So for me to be supportive and for me to be the guy that’s in their corner 100 percent and not whispering, ‘Yeah, I should be out there,’ behind their back. That kind of stuff fractures a locker room.”
He no longer needs to worry about fractured locker rooms in 2021. Tagovailoa, once the Dolphins’ quarterback of the future, is now their quarterback of the present. Meanwhile, Fitzpatrick moved on from Miami and is now with the Washington Football Team.