Free agent quarterbacks Jameis Winston and Cam Newton are looking for new homes, but it shouldn’t be with the Dolphins
The Miami Dolphins enjoyed a touch of Fitz-Magic in the second half of the 2019 season.
Behind 37-year-old quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, the Miami Dolphins ended the season on a 5-4 run over their last nine games, including a Week 17 last-minute upset that cost the New England Patriots a first-round bye in the playoffs. A team that was supposed to be tanking scored more than 25 points per game, seventh in the NFL in that span.
With Tom Brady’s departure from the Patriots, the AFC East is as wide open as it’s been in two decades. Dolphins General Manager Chris Grier and head coach Brian Flores have taken steps to build on that strong finish and make the Dolphins into a contender. When free agency began last Wednesday, the Dolphins doled out $218 million to free agents like Byron Jones, Kyle Van Noy, and Shaq Lawson. Most of their new additions have come on the defensive side of the ball, but they also got help on offense from guard Ereck Flowers and running back Jordan Howard.
The Dolphins, still with $34 million in salary cap space and three first-round picks in April’s draft plus another two in the second round, believe they have a bright future ahead of them. That future, though, shouldn’t include two players who are currently free agents: quarterbacks Jameis Winston and Cam Newton.
Winston and Newton, two former first-overall picks, are looking for a fresh start after being cut loose by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Carolina Panthers, respectively. The Dolphins, with a journeyman quarterback who turns 38 in the middle of the 2020 season leading their offense, would seem like an ideal fit for either of them. But that’s not the case.
The Dolphins have the fifth overall pick in the draft and will be eyeing a quarterback, likely Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa. Tagovaiola posted a video on social media on Monday showcasing him going through passing drills, his first action since undergoing hip surgery in November. If the Dolphins draft him with their top pick, they might be cautious and have him sit out his rookie season in order to ensure that hip injury is fully healed. That would make whoever plays quarterback in Miami in 2020, whether Fitzpatrick, Winston or Newton, a caretaker, a bridge to a new era in South Florida.
That’s a role Fitzpatrick is best suited for and not one that would fit either Winston or Newton. Fitzpatrick formed a solid bond with the offensive weapons on the Dolphins roster. Wide receiver DeVante Parker finished fifth in the NFL in receiving yards last season; in 2018, he was fifth on the Dolphins. Tight end Mike Gesicki, a tall target for a quarterback, had a breakthrough second year with 570 yards and five touchdowns, including the winning score in the victory over New England, after not catching any touchdowns as a rookie.
Fitzpatrick is the sort of dependable quarterback the Dolphins will need in 2020 as they build toward that bright future. Over his last nine starts, he turned the ball over just six times; Winston, in the midst of throwing a league-leading 30 interceptions, had 18 turnovers in that span. Winston’s propensity to turn the ball over is one thing that can undo all the improvements the Dolphins front office has made to their defense this offseason.
Winston and Fitzpatrick have been locked in a quarterback battle before. In 2018, while Winston was serving a three-game suspension to start the year, Fitzpatrick started for Tampa Bay and became the first quarterback in NFL history with three straight games of at least 400 passing yards. “Fitz-Magic” was born, and although Winston eventually returned to take over the starting job, he had a tenuous hold over it as then-head coach Dirk Koetter switched back-and-forth between the two. Fitzpatrick ended the season with a passer rating more than 10 points better than Winston.
Entering his 16th year in the NFL, Fitzpatrick remains averse to injury, even as a porous Dolphins offensive line allowed him to be sacked 40 times last season. Newton, never afraid to take a hit, has ended the past two seasons on the injured reserve. He missed the final two games in 2018 with a shoulder injury and appeared in just two games for the Panthers last season before suffering a Lisfranc injury. With teams’ ability to conduct physicals on hold indefinitely due to the coronavirus outbreak, the Dolphins won’t be able to figure out how healed Newton is from that injury before signing him.
It’s simply too big of a risk to take for a team that expects good things in 2020 and beyond. They can afford to let Tagovailoa sit out a season and heal, but Newton would be looking to compete for a starting job right away. It just shouldn’t be for the Dolphins. Newton and Winston need to look elsewhere for a team willing to give them a shot in next season. Fitzpatrick isn’t perfect, but he’s just what the Dolphins need to groom the quarterback of the future.