The Miami Dolphins do not have a quarterback controversy. They have the opposite. They have an ideal situation, with just the right veteran incumbent, just the right incoming rookie and the luxury to not hurry the latter onto the field before he is entirely ready.
It is one of the best situations in the NFL, in fact, for reasons we will explain.
Yet the specter of controversy arose this week when old vet Ryan Fitzpatrick, appearing on an ex-teammate’s podcast, said he still wants to start; it’s why he re-signed. Well, no duh, right! He is still playing at a high level. He was Miami’s team MVP last season. He competes; it’s what he does for a living.
Fitzpatrick also said he will be an “open book” for first-round rookie Tua Tagovailoa — a willing mentor. And there is zero doubt about that. But all the football world heard is that Fitzpatrick won’t step aside.
This is what happens in the void of sports, of actual games and results. Sports coverage is all peripheral now.
It’s why the little back and forth on Instagram between Dolphins receiver DeVante Parker and Saints counterpart Michael Thomas became bigger news than was merited this week.
It is something to chew on in the void. Heck, why do you think I’m writing about it? Rhetorical question. Answer: Because I can’t write about the Heat’s playoff run or Inter Miami’s inaugural season or how the Marlins are doing — all erased by the coronavirus/COVID-19 shutdown.
Why do you think ESPN’s Michael Jordan and the Bulls documentary series did record ratings? Why do you think CBS is rolling out a “comedic game show series” starring Keegan-Michael Key, Rob Gronkowski and Venus Williams? Anything sportsy wil do for now.
So the NFL on Fox, on Instagram, asked if it wold be tougher to make a catch when guarded by the Patriots’ Stephon Gilmore or to break up a pass when covering Thomas. Parker, who happened to have eight catches for 137 yards versus Gilmore in a December game, picked the first option. He never mentioned Thomas.
A sharp-edged back and forth ensued.
Thomas: “Go run some numbers. I lapped you and you been in the league longer than me first rounder.”
Parker said it’s because he is targeted “300 times a game” by Drew Brees.
Thomas said Parker should blame his parents for inferior genes, not his QB.
Parker: “Quit crying bra.”
Miami’s guy is a meerkat picking a fight with a lion, of course. Thomas is a three-time Pro Bowler with 470 career catches and 32 TDs to Parker’s 235 and 18. Thomas is among the NFL’s most productive wideouts. Parker, before his breakout 2019 season, was widely seen as a draft bust or on the edge of that yoke.
All of which brings us back to Miami’s quarterback situation, because it includes whomever is throwing having the spunky Parker finally playing like a first rounder — like a No. 1 receiver with a chip on his shoulder.
It also includes Allen Hurns, Albert Wilson, Isaiah Ford and Jakeem Grant. And better run support with Jordan Howard and Matt Breida added. And beefed up blocking after the offensive line was targeted in free agency and the draft.
But the mentor aspect is Tagovailoa’s real advantage over the other three first-round quarterbacks drafted in April. Consider:
No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow has no Andy Dalton in Cincinnati, no experienced fellow QB.
Sixth pick Justin Herbert has no Philip Rivers with the Los Angeles Chargers. He has Tyrod Taylor, who, at 30, is not ready to ease into the background or proven enough for a mentor role.
And late first-round pick Jordan Love? He has Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay, but Rodgers has not hidden his surprise and disappointment over the Packers drafting his eventual replacement, saying he hoped to play into his 40s and retire a Packer but that that “may not be a reality at this point.”
Fitzpatrick gives Tagovailoa a much better mentor than Burrow or Herbert and a more willing one than Love.
He also gives Miami enough quality and leadership to not hurry the rookie. The Dolphins have the luxury to make certain Tagovailoa is 100 percent recovered from his hip surgery and 100 percent ready to take over. Tua will not be cloaked in pressure as he fully heals and learns and develops.
Fitzpatrick, who went 4-6 in his 10 games as a starter in his two seasons with the Bucs before joining Miami last year, has piloted a lot of bad teams in his long NFL tenure and therefore never has gotten the credit he deserves. But there is a reason he has been a career-long starter still employed at 37.
He is 29th all-time in career pass completions, 38th in touchdown passes and 39th in passing yards.
He has not made a Pro Bowl, is nobody’s star and not close to a Hall of Famer, and yet he is the perfect man for Miami to have to shepherd and play sensei to Tagovailoa.
Yes, Fitzpatrick says he enters 2020 hoping and wanting to start.
But a quarterback Harvard-smart and football-smarter will know when it is time to step aside, and he’ll do so with leadership and grace.