It’s a move that has been expected for months as Fitzpatrick has functioned as the starter all offseason, and the bigger competition evolved as Tagovailoa beat out Josh Rosen for the No. 2 quarterback role.
“This isn’t groundbreaking news, but Fitz is going to be the starter,” coach Brian Flores said Monday. “A year like this with no OTAs, no minicamp, modified training camp, we felt like that would be the best decision for the team. He’s done a good job through the course of training camp, and he’ll be out there.”
Fitzpatrick, 37, enters his 16th NFL season and second consecutive as the Dolphins’ starter. He remains the team’s most respected leader, as evidenced by being named captain for the second consecutive season. Fitzpatrick, who started 13 of 16 games in 2019, looked strong during training camp and continued to build on his chemistry with top receivers DeVante Parker and Preston Williams.
The decision shouldn’t be considered an indictment of Tagovailoa, who has looked healthy and mobile during his first football action since a devastating hip injury suffered 10 months ago while playing for Alabama.
“He’s had a good camp. He’s been competitive. He’s shown a lot of improvement,” Flores said. “If he had to go in and play, that’s how it’d be. Now a rookie playing early on, we may have that at some other positions and if that were the case, then that’s what it would be.”
But with a shortened offseason because of the coronavirus pandemic and a young, overhauled offensive line, Fitzpatrick makes the most sense to start. He also has a great relationship with new Dolphins offensive coordinator Chan Gailey, who has coached him for five combined seasons between the Buffalo Bills and the New York Jets.
Fitzpatrick’s infectious personality and passionate approach to playing football makes him a locker room favorite. His teammates feed off that. The Dolphins raised their play above their talent last season when Fitzpatrick helped them go 5-4, including an upset win at New England, over their final nine games.
Dolphins players have been working under the assumption over the past few weeks that Fitzpatrick would be their starting quarterback. When the Dolphins released Rosen over the weekend, it solidified the Dolphins’ quarterback room with Fitzpatrick No. 1, Tagovailoa No. 2 and recently signed practice squad QB Jake Rudock functioning as No. 3.
When Fitzpatrick spurned retirement in January and returned to Miami, he envisioned being a bridge type of player for the franchise’s future QB. He has happily embraced his role as mentor and self-described “placeholder” for Tagovailoa. He promises to be his biggest cheerleader whenever the rookie is called to the starting lineup.
Fitzpatrick and Tagovailoa have developed a bond in camp, with the young quarterback wearing a No. 14 Fitzpatrick jersey to his first media availability of the summer and the veteran praising his understudy every chance he gets.
But for now, it will be Fitzpatrick’s show.
When the Dolphins signed Fitzpatrick in March 2019, they could not have pictured his tenure going as well as it has so far. He has been a calming presence and leader for one of the NFL’s youngest teams. Fitzpatrick, the first QB to start for eight NFL teams, has performed better than expected when on the field and has been the ideal quarterback to shepherd Tagovailoa into the league.
Last season, Fitzpatrick completed 62% of his passes for 3,529 yards, 20 passing touchdowns, 13 interceptions and a 66.5 QBR (which ranked eighth in the NFL). He also led the Dolphins in rushing with 243 yards and four touchdowns.