The acquisition of quarterback Josh Rosen in a draft night trade with the Arizona Cardinals naturally had Miami Dolphins fans convinced the organization had found its successor to Ryan Tannehill.
The subsequent signing of veteran free agent QB Ryan Fitzpatrick seemingly filled out the picture. Obviously, Fitzpatrick was brought in to mentor Rosen as the 2018 first-round pick continues his acclimation to the NFL.
While this scenario seemed to make the most sense at the beginning of training camp, it is not the one that will carry the rebuilding Dolphins into this weekend’s start of the 2019 season.
Rookie coach Brian Flores has decided that Fitzpatrick, the Harvard man with the Rutherford B. Hayes beard, will get the start when the Dolphins open against the Baltimore Ravens.
“After a thorough evaluation of OTAs, training camp, games, practice, we felt this was the best move for the team going into the season,” Flores told the media. “Ryan has done a really good job from a leadership standpoint, from an execution standpoint, and we feel like it’s the best move for the team. … We’re always going to do what we feel is in the best interest of the organization.”
This decision might annoy Dolphins fans, but it really shouldn’t be too surprising. Flores, the latest New England Patriots assistant to land a head coaching gig, has never given anyone the impression Rosen had moved ahead of Fitzpatrick in the race. It’s now apparent Flores isn’t ready yet to hand the keys to a kid whose successes were sporadic during his rookie season. The Cardinals were 3-10 in his starts.
“The battle and competition never stops,” said Rosen. “I’ll push him every single day for him to get better, and if he doesn’t get better, hopefully I’ll surpass him at some point. I’m rooting for him more than anyone.”
Fitzpatrick is a solid choice. The Dolphins will be the eighth team he has started for. That’s an NFL record. In 2018, he got off to one of the best starts of any league quarterback in Tampa Bay before Jameis Winston was finally able to wrestle the job from his hands.
The Dolphins are installing a new offense. And that means a ton of complex componets only a guy with Fitzpatrick’s experience would be able to quickly become comfortable with. No sense getting the wires crossed right now.
“I know I have more confidence in myself than anybody in the world,” said Fitzpatrick. “Sometimes that’s a detriment, but a lot of times that works in my favor. I’m always confident in who I am and what I am as a player. This is where I wanted to be and what I worked to get.”
Flores did not wait until the end of Thursday’s final preseason game against the New Orleans Saints to make his decision. He informed Fitzpatrick and Rosen before kickoff. Rosen didn’t even play in the game.
“On this progression, I think the future will be pretty bright [for me]. I’m excited,” Rosen said. “I wouldn’t say it’s a setback, but it’s part of the journey. It’s only [a matter of] time that this team is mine, but until then I’m going to be as supportive of a backup as I can and push him every single day.
“You could say to develop the young guy and make sure when he pulls the trigger it’s a real trigger and he’s ready to do it. Or you could say trial by fire. But trial by fire didn’t work good for me last year.”
Much like in New York, where rookie Daniel Jones is essentially one or two bad games away from displacing veteran Eli Manning on the Giants, it seems certain Rosen will inherit the job at some point. If he doesn’t, that also would send an indisputable message – the Dolphins don’t trust Rosen and will be looking for another QB in the 2020 draft.
“He’s improved greatly over the course of training camp,” Flores said of Rosen. “Playing quarterback in this league takes some time. He’s in a new offense. I think he’ll get there. When? I don’t know. A lot of that is up to him. He knows that.”
The Dolphins signed Fitzpatrick to a two-year deal in March. He will be the team’s 20th starter since Dan Marino retired in 1999. Rosen, the 10th overall pick in 2018 NFL draft, was acquired for a 2019 second-round pick and a 2020 fifth-round pick.
“I’m excited to get out there and lead this team and do the best I can out there,” Fitzpatrick said. “It’s a situation I’ve been in for multiple franchises, and I’ll lean on my experience a little bit and try to get the guys out there, everybody on the same page, great communication, and playing with a lot of excitement.”
The Dolphins get their bye after the first four weeks of the season. That might be a good time to revisit the situation. If Fitzpatrick is still the starter after a full month has passed, that might be a sign the Dolphins are having second thoughts about Rosen.
“Fitz is our starter,” Flores said. “You don’t go into one of these saying, ‘(Rosen) is going to start for this amount of games.’ That’s not how you do this.
“When (will he start)?” I don’t know. A lot of that is up to him. He knows that. No knock on him … he’s worked extremely hard. This is a young kid who works extremely hard, and it’s important to him. He is talented. But playing quarterback in this league takes time. … I think he’ll get there. I really do.”