Tua Tagovailoa has been medically cleared for football activities a little under nine months after injuring his hip against Mississippi State and having his entire future thrown into doubt. The Miami Dolphins will now get an unrestricted look at their new quarterback in whatever training camp capacity exists before the 2020 NFL season gets underway.
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Given that lack of a conventional camp and preseason, it seems extremely unlikely that Tagovailoa will be the starter by the time Week 1 rolls around, particularly Ryan Fitzpatrick being the incumbent at that spot. What remains is for the team to work out when to make the transition.
For us, that brings up the question of just how good Tua needs to look to unseat Fitz(magic).
With his larger-than-life beard and the famous press conference outfit, Fitzpatrick has become better known as a meme than for his play on the field, but the past two seasons have quietly been the best campaigns in a career that began in the seventh round of the 2005 NFL Draft.
Only a brief stretch as a starter in Houston can rival his play-by-play performance in Miami last season and Tampa the year before, even though his best statistical output came by just heaving the ball up to Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker with the Jets back in 2015.
Fitzpatrick has always had that gunslinger bent to him. He’s like the answer to the question: “What if Brett Favre had gone to Harvard and had merely an average arm at best?”
That gunslinger mentality shows up all the time in everything Fitzpatrick does on the football field. Sometimes, it works out and he ends up with seasons like he had with the Jets, where his receivers win enough to boost his stat line (In 2015, he had 31 touchdowns to just 15 interceptions). But other times, things break against him and he gets benched. The average league-wide turnover-worthy play rate was 3.55% last year, but Fitzpatrick has been at over 4% (4.1) for his career. Last year in Miami, despite an offensive line that ranked dead last in the NFL protecting him, his turnover-worthy play rate was just 2.7%.
Fitzpatrick’s performance last season wasn’t necessarily reflected in his box score stats, either, because the Dolphins had a truly atrocious supporting cast. This was a team vying for the No. 1 overall pick before winning a couple of games and almost taking themselves out of quarterback contention entirely.