One of the intriguing aspects of this Miami Dolphins season is watching how one side of the organization has successfully authored a full blown tank job while the other side has denied and indeed displayed indignation at the idea the team is tanking.
The Miami personnel department has fully tanked this season. The roster that was 7-9 last year was demolished and, here’s the tank part, no equivalent or superior replacements were brought in to keep up or improve the team. And this was done with under-performing players and quality players alike. This was done with older and younger players alike.
A full tank job.
The coaching staff and players in the locker room, meanwhile, have not been openly tanking on any level that I know of. Coaches have generally done all they could to squeeze a win out of the team. Players have done all they knew to get a W. Both have failed. But the effort has been beyond reproach.
So not tanking.
And then Sunday happened.
Starting quarterback Josh Rosen played poorly against the Washington Redskins. He completed 15 of 25 passes for a meager 85 yards. He threw two interceptions. He didn’t move the team. And he was benched to start the fourth quarter.
Ryan Fitzpatrick stepped in and it was a completely different game. He completed 12 of 18 passes for 132 yards. He threw a touchdown pass and got the team in the end zone another time. His quarterback rating was 106.7. But most importantly, he brought a palpable spark to the entire team.
It felt different with Fitzpatrick in the game.
But afterward coach Brian Flores announced Rosen will remain the Dolphins’ starting quarterback. And on Monday, Flores again said Rosen is the starter.
“We’ll see how it goes this week in practice,” Flores said, “but Josh is the starter.”
And here’s my question: Why?
Because based on what I saw Sunday, Fitzpatrick is the better guy right now. He played better. He affected the atmosphere of the entire stadium. And Fitzpatrick was right when he said this:
“Guys played hard for me.”
Guys that hadn’t been making plays earlier were inspired by Fitzpatrick and made plays.
“I think Fitz did a good job coming in and doing what he did,” tackle Jesse Davis said. “It was encouraging for us to move the ball and get the ball around to everybody.”
So now, with an obvious difference in play by his two quarterbacks and the obvious electricity Fitzpatrick brought, Flores is going back to Rosen?
Is it because Rosen has a long history as Miami’s proven starter and deserves leeway? No, that’s not it. So, why?
I think we all know why. Because the Dolphins as an organization are invested in evaluating Rosen as much as possible for the future. And if that means Rosen remains the starter and Fitzpatrick goes back to the bench, I guess that’s what they’re going to do.
And that would make clear the priority of the organization, including the Flores, is that evaluation for the future at the expense of possibly winning a game or two now.
You know what that is? Tanking.
This is a coaching staff decision. The same people that have insisted they are about doing what is best for the team day to day, moment to moment, would obviously mostly be considering the future if Rosen goes back to his starting job after Sunday.
It surely is not because Rosen is the better player.
Because he wasn’t the better quarterback Sunday. His season-long statistics are not as good as Fitzpatrick’s. There is no tangible reason to stick with Rosen other than, well, the team is tanking and it needs an evaluation on him for 2020.
That puts Flores and his coaching staff in a bind. Because, remember, he has gone to great pains to insist there is no tanking and even talking about the subject is distasteful.
Except starting Josh Rosen against the Buffalo Bills next Sunday while putting Ryan Fitzpatrick back on the bench is tanking. It’s sitting the guy playing better in favor of the guy you care more about for the future.
Now, to be fair to Flores, he says that is not the thinking at all. He said Monday getting a good evaluation on Rosen is not high on his list of things he’s considering to make this decision. He insisted it is all about doing what is best for the team right now.
And, Flores added for emphasis, the Dolphins think they already “have a good evaluation” on Rosen already, anyway. So he’s not starting so the team can get that evaluation box checked off.
This is getting weirder and weirder.
If you believe what the coach just said, then he believes Rosen is the better QB – even after 50,000 people in the stands, 56 people in the locker room, and millions on television – saw on Sunday that is not true.
I mean, what kind of QB evaluation is that? The guy who plays better isn’t better?
When this piece published Monday morning I shared what I believed would happen next. I wrote:
“Flores this week will be presented with the facts I just laid out and he’s going to have to make a choice:
He can escape the idea he’s part of the tank job by naming Fitzpatrick the starter for the Buffalo game. Or he can announce some sort of “competition” between Rosen and Fitzpatrick during practice during the week, with the winner starting at Buffalo next Sunday.
Those are his only two options to avoid looking as if he’s tanking and even the second choice will seem dubious if Rosen somehow still emerges from the competition as the starter.”
Well, Flores stuck with Rosen as his starter at his Monday presser. But he wasn’t unequivocal. There was pause from him, if I’m reading him right.
Flores said, “We’ll see what happens this week in practice.”
So he took the competition in practice road.
None of this ultimately changes the unvarnished truth about Miami’s QB situation now. Flores is either going to be consistent and play Fitzpatrick because he gives the Dolphins the better chance to win at Buffalo. Or he’s going to start Rosen and prove he’s taking part in the tank job.
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