As the Miami Dolphins prepare to begin a quarterback competition in mid-August, the incumbent, Ryan Fitzpatrick, knows his position is a bridge to future franchise quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. It turns out that he's very comfortable with his dual role of leading the 2020 Dolphins on and off the field while also helping to prepare the man who will eventually take his job.
"I don't know how much time it will be before Tua will be in the lineup. I know that I am the placeholder. We've already had that conversation," Fitzpatrick said. "I've told him, 'I'm going to do the best I can to lead this team and win football games when I'm out there.' Whenever it is that Tua gets his chance whether it's early or late or whenever, I'm going to be his biggest cheerleader."
Placeholder isn't a new role for Fitzpatrick -- who is entering his 16th NFL season while playing on his eighth team. Fitzpatrick is the true definition of a journeyman, but he's also the perfect quarterback to usher the Dolphins into this new era. Teammates love his infectious energy, fun and free style of playing quarterback, and how he helped to galvanize the 2019 Dolphins, leading them to a 5-4 record to end the season.
Fitzpatrick is the favorite to begin Week 1 as the Dolphins' starter, but Tagovailoa has been cleared for full practice and once he's comfortable in the offense his talent might force coach Brian Flores to put him in the starting lineup. Flores says it will be an open competition. Either way, don't expect animosity between Fitzpatrick and Tagovailoa.
"I have a unique perspective just from the career that I've had. I was excited that they drafted him. Since meeting him in person the other day, I'm really excited. I think we really hit it off," Fitzpatrick said. "Even though I'm an old geezer to him, I think we meshed personality-wise and I'm excited to work with him."
The Dolphins players have all taken their initial COVID-19 tests and physicals and can begin the strength-and-conditioning program inside the building.
Fitzpatrick, who turns 38 in November, will have a leg up in the early quarterback competition because of his relationship with new offensive coordinator Chan Gailey. He spent five years playing for Gailey with Buffalo and the New York Jets. But he says he isn't going to hog all that knowledge -- he plans to be an open book for Tagovailoa and third-year quarterback Josh Rosen, who returns to Miami for his second season with the team.
"It's not all that difficult for me," Fitzpatrick said. "I'm going to go out there competing every single day as I know the younger guys are. In the meeting rooms, I'm not going to keep anything to myself too. I'm going to make somebody tell me to shut up. I'm going to talk as much as I can and share as much as I can with the intimate knowledge I have of this offense."
Fitzpatrick said they've had a couple of walk-throughs with the rookies, and he acknowledged that rookies might be the group most affected by the coronavirus-impacted offseason because of lack of reps.
As for the Tagovailoa-Fitzpatrick relationship, it's already off to a great start and the veteran quarterback got a strong early impression of the rookie.
"I mean, he's a really interesting guy, he's got a lot of energy to him. And you can even just tell the guys are gonna gravitate to him, there's just something about him that is very likable and I can already tell that he's going to be one of those guys that gets along with everybody, that guys are going to want to follow. He just has that kind of aura about him," Fitzpatrick said. "Part of it is probably the way that he played [at Alabama] and just kind of the name and the reputation that he's built for himself. But there's not a whole lot of ego involved and he's very likable. The general conversations, whether about football or life, it's been really fun so far."