By Omar Kelly/Sun Sentinel
The Miami Dolphins didn’t look far to replace Ryan Tannehill as the team’s starting quarterback. In fact, the team didn’t even have to leave the state.
According to a league source, Ryan Fitzpatrick, a 14-year veteran who spent the past two seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, signed a contract on Sunday with Miami, making the Dolphins the third AFC East team the former Harvard standout will play for. Terms of the contract were not immediately available.
Fitzpatrick replaces Tannehill, who was traded to the Tennessee Titans on Friday in a deal that swapped late-round picks in 2019, and will send Miami a 2020 fourth-round selection.
Trading Tannehill to the Titans created a massive void on the roster, one that had to be filled with a free agent, or a draftee because Jake Rudock and Luke Falk, a second-year player claimed off of the waiver wire last offseason, are more suited to be training camp arms competing for a roster spot. Only Rudock has played in an NFL game, completing 3 of 5 passes while a member of the Detroit Lions in 2017.
By trading Tannehill, the Dolphins cleared $13.4 million in cap space, which can be used to sign free agents, or enable the franchise to sign Pro Bowl cornerback Xavien Howard to a contract extension, which is atop the team’s to-do list this offseason.
This past week, the Dolphins failed to lure Tyrod Taylor and Teddy Bridgewater to Miami, as both veteran quarterbacks passed on a two-year, $10 million contract the team was offering. Taylor signed with the Los Angles Chargers, where he’ll serve as Philip Rivers’ backup, and Bridgewater returned to New Orleans, where he’ll hold the clipboard behind Drew Brees.
It’s likely that Fitzpatrick, who has earned $58 million throughout his career, accepted a similar deal to the one Taylor and Bridgewater turned down. Fitzpatrick made $3.3 million last season with the Buccaneers. Fitzpatrick has started 126 games since 2005, when he entered the NFL as the Ivy League Player of the Year, and was taken in the seventh-round of the draft by St. Louis Rams.
Fitzpatrick started three of the four games he played for the Rams his rookie season, and started his journey as an NFL nomad in 2007 when he was traded to the Cincinnati Bengals for a 2008 seventh-round pick.
He spent two seasons with the Bengals, starting 12 of the 14 games he played in, and then joined the Buffalo Bills, for whom he started 53 games over four seasons. He spent the 2013 season in Tennessee, starting nine of 11 games, the 2014 season in Houston starting 12 games for the Texans, and then spent two seasons as the New York Jets starter. Fitzpatrick served as Jameis Winston’s backup in Tampa Bay the past two seasons, but he’s thrived in many of his opportunities as a starter. Last season he completed 66.7 percent of his passes, throwing for 2,366 yards with 17 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in the eight games he played, seven of which were as the Buccaneers starter.
Fitzpatrick, who has a reputation as a gunslinger, produced a career-best 100.4 passer rating in 2018. His cumulative passer rating for his 14 seasons is 81.1.
This 36-year-old is known for being a student of the game, and for unorthodox plays and making bold throws. He is respected in league circles for being a good mentor to younger quarterbacks.
His signing likely won’t prevent Miami from drafting a quarterback either in the 2019 or 2020 NFL draft. Four quarterbacks – Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray, Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins, Missouri’s Drew Lock and Duke’s Daniel Jones – are projected to be possible first-round talents. Miami should be in position to land one of the four with the No. 13 pick it possesses in the first round, but the Dolphins would likely have to trade up to land Murray or Haskins.
But 2020 seems to be the quarterback class the Dolphins have their eyes on because Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa, Oregon’s Justin Herbert and Georgia’s Jake Fromm are considered franchise-changing talents. The Dolphins’ decision-makers have not hidden the fact the franchise is rebuilding, and all of Miami’s moves so far indicate that winning in 2019 is not the top priority. General manager Chris Grier has vowed to lay a foundation that will make the Dolphins a perennial playoff team, and it appears Fitzpatrick could be the bridge that leads the offense during that transition.
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