There’s no other way to put it.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, the 16-year veteran and quarterback who guided the Miami Dolphins through the first stages of their rebuilding process, is devastated about being demoted from the starting quarterback job.
Fitzpatrick believed he and the Dolphins offense were finding their footing six games into the season after winning three of their past four, reaching .500 after last Sunday’s 24-0 win over the New York Jets, and sitting second in the AFC East before their bye this week.
Fitzpatrick has also known all along he would be a placeholder for rookie Tua Tagovailoa.
It did not make the news, or conversation with Dolphins coach Brian Flores regarding the change, any easier.
“I was shocked by it. It definitely caught me off guard. It was a hard thing for me to hear (Tuesday), just kind of digesting the news. My heart just hurt all day. It was heartbreaking for me,” Fitzpatrick shared in a heartfelt and honest interview with the media Wednesday afternoon.
“Obviously, we’ve talked in the past, me and you guys (the media), about how I’m the placeholder and this eventually was going to happen. It was just a matter of kind of when, not if. It’s still just … it broke my heart yesterday. It’s a tough thing for me to hear and to now have to deal with, but I’m going to do my best with it.”
Among some of the first thoughts swarming in Fitzpatrick’s mind after the decision:
“Is this it? Like, was that my last game as an NFL player in terms of being the starter and going out there and playing?” Fitzpatrick said.
And those thoughts come mainly because of the nature of the demotion to Tagovailoa, the Dolphins’ top pick and future franchise quarterback, compared to him being benched and regaining the job from former quarterback Josh Rosen last season.
“This is a different situation. I mean you draft a guy fifth overall and put him in, this isn’t a temporary decision. This is a forever decision. This is a long-term decision. Those situations are very different,” Fitzpatrick said.
“I’m always ready to go. I could probably come out of the stands and play in five years if I needed to without picking up a football but that’s just again accepting the role I’ve been now been given and trying to do the best I can in that role.”
Fitzpatrick said he has not demanded a trade from the Dolphins, and did not want to get into any talk beyond this season. He is in the final year of a two-year contract with Miami.
Fitzpatrick also appreciated his talk with Flores following the change.
“Fitz has been great. … I don’t know if there’s anybody who has been more instrumental in trying to instill a culture and embody a lot of the things we’re looking for from a toughness, competitiveness, team first (standpoint),” Flores said.
“He’s made an impact on Tua, but also a lot of players on this team, so I have a great respect for him. That made this decision very tough. But at the end of the day, as a team, we felt like the best thing to do for our team, now and moving forward, was to go with Tua.
“But I think Fitz and the way he handles himself and his impact on the team, I think it will still be there,” Flores added. “He’s been a tremendous asset and leader on this team.”
One of the major reasons Fitzpatrick took the news so close to heart was because he felt like his investment in the Dolphins franchise, and their investment in signing him after parting with former quarterback Ryan Tannehill before the 2019 season.
Fitzpatrick has started in 19 of the past 22 games for the Dolphins, producing an 8-11 record in his starts, including Miami’s 3-3 clip after six games this season.
“This organization and what we’ve been through the last year and a half, this was kind of the first place other than Buffalo where I just felt fully committed and invested and felt like it was my team,” Fitzpatrick said.
“I think that’s a lot of the reason why … my heart was so heavy. But that’s the direction that the organization and I’ve just got to accept it.”
For a player who just got his job taken away from him one day prior, Fitzpatrick is still taking the news all in stride.
And he described the nature of returning to work on Wednesday the only way he could, in a lighthearted nature.
“I basically got fired (by Flores on Tuesday) and then my day of work (Wednesday) consisted of me, in Zoom meetings, listening to the guy that fired me and then locked in a spaced-out room with my replacement for four hours.”
Tagovailoa, while excited about his new role as Dolphins starter, also feels for Fitzpatrick, the quarterback tasked with helping him accelerate the start of his NFL career.
“Although it hurts me in a way to see Fitz hurt, I’m just very, very lucky to have someone like Fitz in my corner, regardless of the situation we’re in right now,” Tagovailoa said of his relationship with Fitzpatrick.
“I hate to say it like this — but it is like this — It’s like a father and son thing”
Fitzpatrick said he’ll use the bye week to pick himself up and refocus his efforts into his new role as the Dolphins backup quarterback.
“I know how difficult it is to play the quarterback position and I know that that room is so important to the guy that’s playing in terms of everybody having your back and pulling in the same direction. So, (Wednesday is) the day to digest a little bit and we’ll get away for the bye a little bit. But yeah, once this thing starts up again, I’ve got to do my best for Tua to help him out,” Fitzpatrick said.
“Because there’s two separate situations here. One is with Tua, and I want him to do well and I think he’s a great kid and I think he has a really bright future. And the other one is my feelings and just kind of what I’m going through. And that has to be separate from when I walk into this building and help him out. I’ve got to separate those feelings from trying to be a professional and help him out as best I can.”
There’s no other way to put it.