After home games at Hard Rock Stadium, the Miami Dolphins braintrust that includes coach Brian Flores and general manager Chris Grier often move their workday to their training facility in Davie.
And there, after watching film of that day’s game, the men sometimes meet to discus the direction of the team and plans for the days ahead.
Well, if the head coach and general manager haven’t ask themselves, “What are we doing?” after Sunday’s loss to the Seattle Seahawks, something is amiss. If the two men haven’t had the talk about benching quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick in favor of rookie Tua Tagovailoa something is wrong.
Because it is time.
It is time for the Dolphins to let Tua Tagovailoa play.
Flores, by the way, isn’t there yet. He equivocated about the whole starting quarterback topic during his press conference Monday afternoon. But ultimately he added he “presumes” Fitzpatrick will start at San Francisco on Sunday.
Flores added he would not allow himself to make his decision based on “pressure” from the media or anyone else.
And none of that changes the fact the decision has been looming for weeks and it always promised to be a hard one to make. Because it’s difficult to sit a veteran who has the trust and respect of the entire organization and replace him with an unproven rookie who might be great some day, but not necessarily today.
It’s a tough decision to make because the timing of it has to be right.
Well, now’s a pretty good time.
• Because this Dolphins season at the quarter pole is already going sideways. The team has a disappointing 1-3 record. They are three games out of first place in the AFC East and are winless (0-2) within the division.
• Because offense is the most important part of the NFL game today. All you have to do is look at the weekend’s games to see that. This past weekend, the winning team scored 30 points or more in 10 of the 13 games already played.
Said another way, if you ain’t scorin’ you ain’t winnin’.
And the Dolphins offense with Fitzpatrick at quarterback is too wildly inconsistent to score enough to win with consistency.
•Because the reasons for keeping Tagovailoa on the bench have fallen by the wayside with each passing week
The stated reason Flores announced Fitzpatrick as his starting quarterback the first week of the season was because the 37-year-old gave Miami its best chance to win games.
That sounded right and good then.
Except, well, 1-3 now.
And Fitzpatrick has laid an egg in two of the four games the team has played — throwing five interceptions and no touchdown passes against New England and Sunday against Seattle.
(Fitz, by the way, has been true to his reputation as a great leader and positive force on the team. But he’s also been true to his reputation for being a roller coaster ride at quarterback, throwing no touchdown passes and five interceptions in two games and four touchdowns and no interceptions in the other two.)
How Fitzpatrick plays matters. In making lineup decisions involving his quarterback and perhaps the team’s most respected leader, the coach would have to consider how players view the call.
It would have raised eyebrows for veterans who signed with the club this year to win games if the Dolphins named Tagovailoa the starter right away. Those vets watched training camp practices. They saw Fitzpatrick was better.
But those same vets have now watched games. And suddenly the idea Fitzpatrick gives them a better chance to win over the first-round draft pick loses its rationale because, simply, the Dolphins are losing.
All these reasons and the truth of Miami’s situation insulate Flores and Grier from second-guessing about making a change. They can do it now and it would seem like a good thing to do.
Because a change is logically needed. That cannot be argued.
The only reasoning Flores and Grier could possibly summon for keeping Tagovailoa on the bench is if he’s simply not healthy enough to play.
Maybe they think he needs a full year after that college hip injury in November 2019 before he should be in an NFL game. And Flores mentioned Tagovailoa is coming off an injury Monday as one reason he’s not playing.
But this is strange because in the next breath, Flores said Tagovailoa has “checked all the boxes” on his health.
So which is it?
If Tagovailoa is so fragile he cannot be unwrapped for some time to come, then why did the Dolphins draft him ahead of, say, Justin Herbert, who is already playing fairly well for the Los Angeles Chargers?
Flores said he doesn’t compare players and the Dolphins aren’t concerned about what other players drafted elsewhere are doing. I’m sure the 1984 Portland Trailblazers would be glad to hear comparisons between their pick of Sam Bowie and Chicago’s pick of Michael Jordan are of no concern.
The idea Tagovailoa needs more time after his injury 11 months ago affects everything. How does that affect Miami’s offensive line? Must they be playing well before the rookie QB gets in a game? And what if they don’t mesh this season?
Does that mean Tagovailoa doesn’t play at all this season?
And now comes the hard part: What are we doing?
The Dolphins have to ask themselves that question regardless of which direction they take — either keeping Fitzpatrick or switching to Tagovailoa.
What is the plan? What is the vision?
If the Dolphins want to argue the plan is to eventually let Tagovailoa be their franchise quarterback — which is what the entire Earth believes to be the idea — then doing that now makes sense.
Because it’s not about the next 12 games under Fitzpatrick that matter in Dolphins history but rather the next 12 years under Tagovailoa.
The clock will eventually start ticking on the Tagovailoa era. And when it does, there’s probably going to be pain at the start. He is, after all, inexperienced at the NFL game.
So do the Dolphins absorb that pain this year, in a season that already seems headed nowhere? Or do they defer that pain or some of the pain to next year, perhaps ruining another season before Tagovailoa hits his stride?
I say take the pain now. The results cannot be worse than the last four games.
Salguero writes for the Miami Herald