Tua Tagovailoa stepped foot on a football field with the intention to throw a pass in a live game for the first time in nearly a year on Sunday. The Miami Dolphins, in the midst of blowing out the New York Jets, took out starter Ryan Fitzpatrick to let their first overall pick get a few snaps. Tagovailoa completed two passes on two attempts before the game ended.
It was only a brief glimpse of the Alabama product, but the Dolphins and fans will be getting a whole lot more this season. ESPN's Adam Schefter reports Miami has named Tagovailoa its starting quarterback moving forward.
On the surface, this comes across as a surprise. The Dolphins have been adamant since April's draft that they would be taking it slow and steady with Tagovailoa, who was picked fifth overall despite legitimate concerns about the serious hip injury that ended his final collegiate season. Deciding to name him starter six games into the season isn't exactly taking it slow. Not only that, but the man he's replacing, affectionally nicknamed Fitzmagic, has actually played quite well over the last two games; Miami went 2-0 and won by a combined 50 points over the Niners and Jets, bringing their record to 3-3 on the year.
But, if we could take a guess at Miami's big-picture plan heading into the season, the timing makes sense. The Dolphins have a bye this week. They probably decided to give Fitzpatrick six weeks of starting time, and (more importantly) six weeks of practice time for Tagovailoa, and then evaluate everything. This lines up, especially when considering Tagovailoa was not afforded the oh-so-valuable training camp and preseason snaps that rookie QBs of the past have enjoyed.
It's a tough hand to be dealt to Fitzpatrick, but it's not a confounding decision. He has definitely played well recently, but torching a San Francisco defense lacking its best pass rusher and cornerback is not quite the achievement it is made out to be, and the Jets are the worst team in football. More than that, Fitzpatrick is a known quantity. He'll play well for a few weeks, play poorly for a few weeks, and with the right breaks in crucial moments, will lead your team to a 7-9 record. Tagovailoa could be worse than that as a rookie, but he could also be much, much better. The Dolphins will be better off knowing that than they would comfortably sitting back as Fitzmagic leads them to a middling record in the AFC East.
The Dolphins have a bye then play the Rams, which is not ideal. I don't think anyone in the organization is looking forward to the team's prized prospect receiving his "welcome to the NFL" moment at the hands of Aaron Donald. But now is as good a time as ever. He'll get two weeks of first-team snaps and plenty of time to prepare for his first professional start. The team believes him to be the future of the franchise. That's why he was taken so highly despite his injury history. They need to find out if they're right at some point, and in the NFL, there's no time like the present.
It's Tua Time. The Dolphins will actually be fun to watch. It's the right decision and one that we'll all enjoy watching unfold.