Does Ryan Fitzpatrick deserve to be Dolphins starter in 2020?

As one of several quarterback-needy teams, the Miami Dolphins need to determine whether or not they will roll with Ryan Fitzpatrick as the starter for 2020.

After being renamed the starter ahead of Week 7, Ryan Fitzpatrick led the Miami Dolphins to a 5-6 record, warranting serious consideration for remaining there in 2020. But with a top-five pick, a former first-round talent on the books, and plenty of spending cash, which path should the Dolphins take to fill football’s most important position?

Money in the tank

Before winning three of the final five games of 2019, the Miami Dolphins season began with the jettisoning of aging players, ballooned contracts, and the team’s signal-caller for the past seven years.

Just two days into the new league year, the Dolphins essentially gave away their only starting passer to save $33 million. Looking back, the Titans appear to be the immediate beneficiary. However, the void that followed required Miami to seek out an affordable, yet ample replacement.

Three days later, the Dolphins signed Ryan Fitzpatrick, a journeyman quarterback, to a two-year contract worth $11 million. It had grown obvious that Dolphins owner Stephen Ross and general manager, Chris Grier were admittedly rebuilding, albeit reluctantly.

Even before the grizzled veteran arrived at the team’s training facility in Davie, Florida, the word ‘tank’ was being used to describe the team’s intentions. Once there, Fitzpatrick quickly became the butt of a joke, furthering the notion that 2019 would indeed be a terrible season for the Dolphins football team.

Piece of cake

While social media accounts and sports news outlets criticized Fitzpatrick’s weight, the 36-year-old took it in stride. He did so with charm and charisma, all the while, placing a smile on everyone’s face. Fitzpatrick was rather nonchalant about the media’s immediate reaction, leaving his play on the practice field to serve as his defense.

That’s Ryan Fitzpatrick. He’s calm and relaxed in an otherwise high-pressure situation. For all these reasons, he was able to win over his coaches, teammates, and a marred fanbase. Therefore, leading to a realistic chance for Ryan Fitzpatrick to remain the Dolphins starter in 2020.

With that said, nobody envisioned him having the success he did in 2019. Given his supporting cast and reputation around the league, Fitzpatrick was thought to be the ideal candidate to guide this team to a three-win season, or worse.

Yes, he was capable of sprinkling a few brilliant moments here and there, given his alias ‘Fitz-magic.’ But for every 400-yard game, there’s a handful of four-interception games. No quarterback plays for eight teams in 15 years by accident.

The Rosen one

In March, it appeared Ryan Fitzpatrick would be the starter during a designed rebuild. A month later, and Miami traded for one of 2018’s top quarterback prospects. The move, while admirable, made it increasingly more difficult to understand the franchise’s plans for 2019 and beyond.

The Dolphins received Rosen in exchange for their second-round selection previously of the New Orlean Saints (the Cardinals used it to select a wide receiver, Andy Isabella) and a future 2020 fifth-rounder.

Even with a new guy in town, Fitzpatrick remained the starter throughout camp, preseason, and the start of the regular season. In the first two weeks, Fitzpatrick and the Dolphins were blown-out by a combined score of 10-102. The Amish rifle completed a measly 50% of his passes for under 300 yards and a 1:4 touchdown to interception ratio.

Rosen entered both contests late as the outcomes grew evident, and ahead of a Week 3 matchup with the Dallas Cowboys, Rosen was given the starting nod.

He didn’t fare much better. Against Dallas, the former first-round pick barely reached 200 yards passing, completing less than half of his throws for a quarterback rating of 61.9. Pro Football Network’s Offensive Share Metric (OSM) graded Rosen the 29th best quarterback for Week 3 ahead of only Kyler Murray (Cardinals), Teddy Bridgewater (Saints), and Luke Falk (Jets).

With a full week to prepare, Rosen improved, albeit slightly, against the Los Angeles Chargers. His OSM grade of 18.63 was good for 23rd amongst all starting quarterbacks but proved to be the best he’d offer up in 2019.

Do you believe in Fitzmagic?

The following week against the Washington Redskins, Rosen was benched after throwing for an awful 85 yards and two interceptions in three-quarters of play. His OSM grade? A whopping 1.01, placing him second to last for Week 6. Fitzpatrick was back.

Fitzpatrick’s immediate impact on the Dolphins offense made it clear; he was the best man for the job moving forward.

Following the one-point loss to the Redskins, Fitzpatrick led the Dolphins offense in back to back competitive games against what would be playoff-contending teams. Yes, the Dolphins lost both, but that was the plan all along, right?

That ideal was shattered in Week 9 when the Dolphins defeated division rival New York Jets and former Dolphins head coach Adam Gase. After what many pundits believed to be a winless roster, Fitzpatrick completed 67% of his passes for 288 yards and three touchdowns, guiding the Dolphins to their first win.

No matter your stance on Miami’s 2020 draft positioning, beating the Gase led Jets was a good thing. But given the poor play of the Jets, the victory was soon dismissed. Do you want to know what would be more impressive? Going on the road to Indianapolis to play the playoff-contending Colts, and winning that game.

In Week 10, Fitzpatrick’s numbers weren’t fantastic, but again, his aura influenced everyone on the team. The 12 points allowed by the Dolphins defense would be the lowest point total scored by the Colts offense in the first ten weeks. Only against the New Orleans Saints in Week 15 would the Colts put up fewer points (7).

The Dolphins had won consecutive games for the first time since The Miami Miracle on December 9, 2018.

Down to earth

Over the next couple of weeks, the Dolphins returned to their losing ways. In Weeks 11 and 12, Fitzpatrick completed 63% of his passes for 537 yards and two touchdowns. While commendable, Fitzpatrick wasn’t blameless by any standards. He’d turn the ball over three times with two interceptions and a lost fumble.

It didn’t help that Fitzpatrick was sacked 11 times during those two games, the most of any two-game span all year. For perspective, Fitzpatrick would be sacked 12 times the next five games. With that said, Week 12 marked a low point for Fitzpatrick, OSM wise. His 16.54 grade marked the second time in three weeks he’d record less than a 20% share in the Dolphins offensive production.

For the next five weeks, however, Fitzpatrick wouldn’t grade out below 20% again. In fact, he’d grade out above 30% three times, averaging an OSM grade of 31.35 during that span.

Who’s coming with me?

His performance during that time, despite a porous front five and injuries to top targets, was honorable. But more so than the box score was his role in the emergence of two heavily scrutinized Dolphins players.

Devante Parker had a mostly healthy 2019 where he’d record 1,202 yards receiving to go along with nine touchdown catches, both career highs. And it was the Week 11 loss to the Bills that kicked off his and Fitzpatrick’s formidable connection over the final seven weeks.

In four of the final seven games, Parker topped 100 yards receiving, which included four trips to the end zone.

Between Weeks 12-17, a third of Fitzpatrick’s 12 touchdowns went to Devante Parker. And what of the remaining eight?

After that Week 11 loss to Buffalo, tight end Mike Gesicki was targeted by Fitzpatrick nearly eight times per game leading to five touchdowns in the final six weeks. That’s roughly twice the amount of targets Gesicki averaged in the first ten weeks.

While his catch rate dropped, Gesicki finally became the red zone threat he was expected to be. As a second-round selection, Gesicki was already being labeled a bust candidate, and he has Fitzpatrick to thank for putting him in a position to prove his critics wrong.

Leave em’ wanting more

What’s most impressive was the way Fitzpatrick and the Miami Dolphins offense ended the 2019 season.

Ranked 27th in offense with 310 yards a game, Miami gained 502 yards of offense against the Cincinnati Bengals and another 389 yards against the New England Patriots the following week. The season concluded with the Dolphins’ first victory at Foxboro since 2008 as Fitzpatrick and the offense outgained the defending Super Bowl champions by 37 yards.

Fitzpatrick closed the 2019 season ranked 7th of 40 qualifying quarterbacks in PFN OSM. Eight times he’d finish a week in the top ten, including five in the top five.

No doubt the Miami Dolphins have decisions to make regarding their 2020 starter under center, but Ryan Fitzpatrick gives them a unique circumstance. Should the Dolphins draft their future franchise quarterback in April, the franchise will have the luxury of bringing that player along slowly–a well-documented method.

As far as free agency spending goes, Fitzpatrick allows Dolphins general manager, Chris Grier, to use his team’s capital to improve other aspects of the organization. More than likely, the Dolphins select a quarterback on the first day of the 2020 NFL draft.

However, one thing is for sure: Ryan Fitzpatrick isn’t going to hand over the keys just yet. Again, that’s Ryan Fitzpatrick. And Dolphins’ coaches, teammates, and fans should be okay with that because everything Fitzpatrick personifies has the chance to be handed down to the future of this organization.

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