Armando Salguero

Fitzpatrick’s value this week is as Dolphins starting QB. He would also have value in 2020 | Opinion

The Miami Dolphins quarterback situation in 2019 is an interesting study in a team needing and wanting one outcome but getting another. And so the team that needs and wants young quarterback Josh Rosen to step forward and develop and become a positive factor at the position is instead about to let the journeyman veteran in his 15th season start for the fourth time this year.

Yes, Rosen started three games. But Ryan Fitzpatrick has basically beaten him out for the job twice — once at the beginning of the season and then again last week at Buffalo and, according to coach Brian Flores, for Monday night’s game at Pittsburgh.

So what to do when the plans don’t go exactly as expected?

My guess is the Dolphins will stop trying to force this thing and let the season drive the decision the remainder of the season.

What I mean by that is Fitzpatrick earned his start at Buffalo with that outstanding fourth quarter against Washington. Rosen, the starter against Washington, lost the job with a poor performance the first three quarters of that game.

Then on Sunday Fitzpatrick completed 23 of 35 passes for 282 yards with one touchdown pass and an 11-yard touchdown run. And so Fitz earned the start against the Steelers.

But here’s the thing: Fitz is Fitz.

I love the guy. He’s a fine leader. I hear him speak maybe 15 minutes per week and can see how impressive he is. I suppose teammates who are around him, break bread with him and share much more time with him throughout the week appreciate much more.

But ...

He’s inconsistent.

That’s not a knock. That’s a fact his 129 NFL starts have shown again and again and again. And as very rare is the NFL player who suddenly finds a new career arc at age 36 (37 next month for Fitz) my guess we will ride Fitzpatrick’s current streak for a while.

And then, as surely as we’re at a peak, he will take us for a visit to the valley.

That predictable valley will be the time when Rosen will have the opportunity to regain the starting job. If history can be believed, it will happen.

And by then, young master Rosen had better grab that opportunity with the grip of a vice because it might be his final opportunity to start games for the Miami Dolphins in 2019 — or perhaps ever, based on the team’s intention to draft a quarterback in the first round in 2020.

So what should Rosen be working to improve between now and his next opportunity?

He generally needs to speed up. People who have studied his game tell me he needs to process the defense quicker, read what he sees quicker (when plays ask him to make multiple reads), make quicker decisions on where to go with the football and get the ball out quicker.

All of that is important because compared to Fitzpatrick, Rosen’s operation is slower. And that shows up in that Fitzpatrick has attempted 105 passes and been sacked six times. Rosen, meanwhile, has attempted 109 passes and been sacked 16 times — more than twice as many times and almost three times as many.

“I think it’s a combination of a lot of things,” offensive coordinator Chad O’Shea said Tuesday. “Certainly, we were fortunate in this last game that we had really good protection from the offensive line, but I also think that Fitz does a really nice job of playing on-time in the pass game and has great awareness and understanding of when he needs to get the ball out.

“I think that his knowledge and understanding of the defensive scheme that he’s facing is very helpful in anticipation of getting the ball out when he needs to. But I certainly think a lot of this resulted from a combination of a lot of efforts from the offensive line protecting well to the running backs, really – Mark [Walton] was another one that protected really well in the game and did a nice job being physical.

“The offensive line did a good job for us in protection, and then Fitz has a kind of an inner clock and just a good feel for when the get the ball out and when to scramble.”

So let me say what O’Shea isn’t saying: Rosen needs to improve all those things the coach just praised Fitzpatrick for. Rosen’s inner clock, his understanding of the defensive schemes and playing “on time” have to be better.

And now let me say something about 2020: I reported a couple of weeks ago how Rosen believed himself on a 12-game tryout with Miami but that, thankfully for him, his time would extend beyond that.

That story did not deal with Fitzpatrick’s time with the Dolphins. So this one must.

Fitz is signed through 2020. And it says here it would be wise for the Dolphins to bring him back rather than letting him walk this offseason, even in the face of drafting a quarterback in the first round and keeping Rosen.

Yes, Fitzpatrick is scheduled to cost the Dolphins $5.5 million next year and cutting him after the season was originally scheduled to save Miami $4 million. But, according to spotrac.com, the quarterback’s deal guarantees up to $4 million of his 2020 salary if he hits certain play-time incentives this season.

Well, as he’s about to start his fourth game Monday and might get some more after that, it’s possible the Dolphins might be on the hook for much more than $1.5 million if they release Fitzpatrick.

So keep him.

What can it hurt?

That quarterback the Dolphins are going to draft would have very few, if any, pros better to pattern their professional approach to starting than Fitzpatrick. If that coming draft pick is a leader, he would do well to learn to manifest that leadership by learning how Fitzpatrick does it.

Fitzpatrick was not happy when he was benched after the New England game in September. He was quite unhappy, in fact. And yet you heard not a peep of complaint from him. That’s being a pro. That’s being a great teammate and a leader.

The point is even if Fitzpatrick doesn’t win the starting job over the rookie and Rosen next year, he would still have great value to the Dolphins through training camp and perhaps well beyond.

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Armando Salguero has covered the Miami Dolphins and the NFL since 1990, so longer than many players on the current roster have been alive and since many coaches on the team were in middle school. He was a 2016 APSE Top 3 columnist nationwide. He is one of 48 Pro Football Hall of Fame voters. He is an Associated Press All-Pro and awards voter. He’s covered Dolphins games in London, Berlin, Mexico City and Tokyo. He has covered 25 Super Bowls, the NBA Finals, and the Olympics.
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