With Tua, the Miami Dolphins Just Pulled a Page From Alabama's Playbook

The Miami Dolphins this week did the most Miami Dolphins thing that a team could do. And it broke the heart of their former starting quarterback who has a Harvard education.

The Dolphins announced Tuesday that Tua Tagovailoa would be their starting quarterback, effective immediately. That means that veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick would be delegated to a backup role—again. The Dolphins were on the upswing, their record was getting better and the offense looked good. So they made a change.

Fitzpatrick took over the team's quarterback duties in Week 6 of 2019, played in an offense that was a work in-progress and guided the team to all five wins last season. After an atrocious 0-7 start in 2019, he has since guided the team to an 8-7 mark since then, including this year's 3-3 mark and current two-game win streak.

Fitzpatrick, a 16-year journeyman quarterback who has played for eight different NFL teams, got emotional Wednesday when asked about Dolphins coach Brian Flores naming Tagovailoa as the starting quarterback moving forward.

"I was shocked by it. It definitely caught me off guard. It was a hard thing for me to hear yesterday, just kind of digesting the news. My heart just hurt all day. It was heartbreaking for me," Fitzpatrick said. "Flo kind of said what he said and said what he said to you guys as well, and that's the decision and the direction that the organization is going in."

"Obviously we've talked in the past, me and you guys, about how I'm the placeholder and this eventually was going to happen," Fitzpatrick continued. "It was just a matter of kind of when, not if. It still just—it broke my heart yesterday. It's a tough thing for me to hear and to now have to deal with, but I'm going to do my best with it."

Tagovailoa had a lot of hype following him to Miami after the Dolphins drafted him No. 5 overall in this spring's NFL Draft. He only lost two games as the starting quarterback at the University of Alabama—the national championship against Clemson following the 2018 season, and a regular-season game to eventual national champion LSU in the 2019 season.

The comparisons between his beginning in Miami and his first year at Alabama are starting to mirror each other. Here's how.

Tua arrived at Alabama with hype that preceded him. He sat behind an experienced quarterback [Jalen Hurts] for a year.
Tua arrived at Miami with hype, only to be named a backup behind veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Tua as a sophomore leapfrogged a successful Hurts [then a junior] as the starter.
Tua as a rookie leapfrogged Fitzpatrick as the starter.

Alabama didn't have a rhyme or reason to make a quarterback change.
Miami right now has no reason to bench Fitzgerald.

The Dolphins were presumably one of the worst teams in the NFL during the 2019 season. They started the season 0-7 and then 2-9, and "Tank for Tua" slogans floating around fan circles. Flores righted the ship and got the team on a slight winning track near the end of the 2019 season, finishing by winning three of their last five games. They even knocked off the New England Patriots—in Foxboro, of all places—on the last game of the regular season.

Meanwhile, Tagovailoa suffered a season-ending hip injury against Mississippi State. And while the Dolphins' ability to get the top pick in this year's NFL Draft slid, so did Tua's stock. LSU's Joe Burrow rose to the top, and the Cincinnati Bengals wound up choosing him with the No. 1 pick.

Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa
Tua Tagovailoa #1 of the Miami Dolphins reacts against the New York Jets during the fourth quarter at Hard Rock Stadium on October 18, 2020 in Miami Gardens, Florida. Tagovailoa has now been named the starting quarterback for the Dolphins. Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The COVID-shortened offseason had fewer training days and no preseason games, which led the Dolphins to starting Fitzpatrick the first six games. The Dolphins were 1-3 before going to San Francisco and beating the defending NFC champs on the road, 43-17. Then, the Dolphins crushed the hapless New York Jets, 24-0, last weekend.

As the Jets game wound down, Tua saw his first action of the season to a rousing 13,000 in attendance at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami. Tua completed both pass attempts, and after the game, he went and sat on the field by himself to soak it all in. Two days later, he was named the starter.

The Dolphins are on a bye this week, and then they host the Los Angeles Rams the next week, which will finally be Tua Time in Miami.