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Docked At Bay: When Will And When Should Tua Tagovailoa Finally Start?

In the 2020 NFL Draft, the Miami Dolphins selected quarterback Tua Tagovailoa out of Alabama with the 5th overall pick. Anyone who has watched even a minute of Tua knows how great of a football player he is. He can run, he can pass, and he also proved he can lead a team to a National Championship.

Coming into the 2019-2020 NFL season, everyone expected the Miami Dolphins to have one of the worst seasons in NFL history as they had an unproven head coach and very little talent on the roster. “Tank for Tua” was the saying, as the thought process was Miami would land the number 1 overall pick and take the best quarterback available: Tua Tagovailoa.

In the end, Tua ended up in Miami after all, but the Dolphins didn’t take him at 1. After a surprise 5-11 season, the Dolphins ended up with the 5th overall pick, but they were still able to take him after a hip injury hindered his draft stock, and a quarterback known as Joe Burrow was able to come out of nowhere and record one of the greatest college football seasons to date, which slid Tua down draft boards as well. 

Around a year ago, many people expected Tua to be an instant starter in the NFL once he arrived, but things change. Due to a combination of his past injury and his injury risk, the Dolphins patience, and the fact that Miami has a viable veteran quarterback in Ryan Fitzpatrick, Tua Tagovailoa has been stuck at bay to start his NFL career. With all that being said, today I will be taking a look at when I believe Tua should step in as the starter, and when we can expect the Dolphins (hopeful) franchise quarterback to finally step in this season.

The Current Situation

ClutchPoints/Maximo Gonzales

As of now, the Miami Dolphins are 1-2 with 37 year old veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick starting at quarterback. Last season, the Dolphins overachieved and went 5-11, and even better, they were 5-8 when Fitzpatrick started. Ryan Fitzpatrick is far from elite, but you know what you’re going to get from him, and that’s a low-end starting quarterback.

Although he has never played on any great teams, and he nearly led the New York Jets to the Playoffs back in 2015-2016, Fitzpatrick has never led a team to the NFL Playoffs in his 16 year career. So far this season, Fitzpatrick has been solid, but nothing special certainly. He’s had his expected bad throws, but he also gives you some great throws, and he plays with such great morale and he’s not afraid to sacrifice his body, despite his age and the athletic state his body is in.

Best of all, Fitzpatrick understands his role. He knows that Tua Tagovailoa is the future of this team, and that he won’t be the guy for very long. Despite this, he owns up to the reality, and says he’s going to help Tua out as much as he can. For Tua Tagovailoa, he is sitting behind a great and willing mentor, and that’s fantastic. 

With all this being said, many people are anxious to see Tua Tagovailoa get in at quarterback. In fact, there are a lot of individuals who believe he’s ready now for the starting job. Now, I’ll voice my opinion on this later, but it’s clear the Dolphins are being very patient with the situation, and he may not start as soon as many people believe he should, but it really all depends on how Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Dolphins continue to play, and how the coaching staff believes Tua Tagovailoa is coming along in his development. 

When Should We Expect To See Tua Tagovailoa Start?

Dolphin Nation/Logan Reardon

For this question, I made a graph to show what chance I believe Tua Tagovailoa has at starting each week for the rest of the season.

As I said before, it’s tough to tell exactly when Tua Tagovailoa will start. There is no set timeline, no one has a clue about how Flores and the ‘Phins coaching staff feels about Tua’s progress, and a lot of it comes down to how Ryan Fitzpatrick is playing and how this Dolphins team is doing. We really haven’t heard much about Tua, and considering Fitzpatrick just had a great game in week 3, it is very unlikely we see Tua get the start in week 4 over Fitzpatrick.

After that, however, it’s fair game. I could seriously see Tua starting under center as soon as week 5. In fact, I gave it a 50% chance of happening, although if I had to bet, I’d probably bet he isn’t the starter by then. With that being said, there’s still a good chance it could be as early as then.

That’s still over a week away. Fitzpatrick could have a bad week 4 showing, and Tua could be progressing at a more successful rate than we think. With this Niners team all banged up, this isn’t too tough of a debut matchup for the rookie.

Outside of Seattle, the only matchup I see Tua having a fairly low percentage of starting in is the Phins’ week 7 matchup with the Los Angeles Chargers. That matchup is still pretty early on in the season, and that’s a tough Chargers defense. If Tua doesn’t start very soon, I don’t see the Dolphins deciding to give him his first start against the Chargers defense, even if it’s a home game.

If Tua isn’t yet starting by week 10, I believe his time will be then. Week 10 is a home game right before their bye week against the atrocious Jets. God forbid, if he doesn’t start that game, I can almost guarantee he’ll be the starter by week 12 at the very latest.

It’s later in the season, coming off a bye week against an atrocious Jets team, followed up with the Bengals and the Chiefs. If Tua isn’t starting by then, there will most likely be an injury or something going on. Either that, or Fitzpatrick is leading a Miami Dolphins playoff push, but we all know the odds of that happening. 

When Do I Believe Tua Should Start?

FanSided/Steven Kubitza

I can’t stress this enough. If I was the coaching staff, I would do the same thing Miami is currently doing. Take this week by week, and be patient. Each week, assess the progress Tua has made and where he’s at, and take a look at how Fitzpatrick is playing and how the team is doing. If the Dolphins are 6-3 heading into week 10 against the Jets and Fitzpatrick is playing very well, don’t rush Tua in there.

I’m not saying that will be the case or anything, but if things are clicking, don’t rush Tua in there just for the hell of it. Rushing quarterbacks in too early can ruin their careers, just look at Josh Rosen for example. Tua is coming off a rough injury.

This season, the Dolphins might be solid, but they’re a fringe, and I mean fringe playoff team at the very best. The Dolphins are still a season or two away from really breaking out, so I don’t see the point in throwing your franchise quarterback in so early when he’s injury prone and he’d be playing behind a terrible O-Line.

Not to mention, he may not be ready for all we know. With no preseason either, that can’t do Tua or the Dolphins any favors either. I know Tua needs experience, that’s why I believe he should at least play a handful of games given Fitzpatrick doesn’t start playing out of his mind.

I have no clue what will happen from here on out, and I’m not sure where Tua stands in his development, but I would shoot for either week 8 against the Rams, or week 9 against the Cardinals. I don’t want Tua’s first two games to be cakewalks back to back against the Jets with a bye week in the middle, but I also don’t want something too difficult for him.

Week 8/9 gives Tua a little over a month to continue to learn and get loose. Plus, the middle of the Dolphins schedule is fairly easy in terms of the defenses they’re facing. People try saying Tua should start by week 5 to show they’re serious about this season, and that may fire the players up, but I disagree. Flores has proven he can get his teams to play competitively, and Fitzpatrick sacrifices his body on so many runs, he’s such a likeable guy and veteran, and he plays with such a high charisma, so I’m not worried about that.

Again, keep assessing week to week, and stay patient, but I also believe the Dolphins should try and find a nice balance between not rushing Tua and being cautious about his injury risk, but also making sure he gets a good amount of in game reps this season as well. No matter what happens, I am very excited to see when Tua Tagovailoa gets his chance, and how he performs once we get to that point.

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