Tua Tagovailoa question not only challenge for rebuilding Dolphins

Second in a three-part series examining the Jets’ AFC East foes.

The Dolphins enter Year 2 of the Brian Flores regime with higher hopes than last year when they dumped many of their best players with an eye on landing a prime draft pick.

That effort — whether you want to call it tanking or not — did not go exactly as planned as they won five games, but they still ended up with Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa in the draft. They also were aggressive in free agency and will have a much different look this season.

Can they contend in the wide-open AFC East? They may not be there yet, but they will be better.

Here is a look at the 2020 Dolphins

What they were

The Dolphins started off 0-7 before going 5-4 to end the season. The team struggled early as players were shipped out in trades, including Minkah Fitzpatrick and Kenyan Drake. They also went with Josh Rosen at quarterback for a terrible three-game stretch before turning things over to veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick for good. Flores had an impressive first season as coach keeping his team together through difficult circumstances.

Tua Tagovailoa
Tua TagovailoaAP

Key losses

Offensive coordinator Chad O’Shea (fired), Defensive coordinator Patrick Graham (hired by the Giants)

Key additions

Veterans: CB Byron Jones, OLB Kyle Van Noy, DE Shaq Lawson, RB Jordan Howard, LB Elandon Roberts, OG Ereck Flowers, OC Chan Gailey, DC Josh Boyer

NFL draft: QB Tua Tagovailoa (Alabama), OT Austin Jackson (USC), CB Noah Igbinoghene (Auburn), OG Robert Hunt (Louisiana), DT Raekwon Davis (Alabama)

The outlook

The biggest question about the Dolphins season is if/when we will see Tagovailoa as the starting quarterback. The Alabama star is coming off hip surgery and there is a school of thought that the Dolphins should treat this like a redshirt year and let him sit and watch Fitzpatrick, like the Chiefs did with Patrick Mahomes. But the Dolphins probably won’t be as good as those Chiefs and the cries for Tagovailoa figure to come quickly and eventually the Dolphins may want to see what they got with the No. 5 pick.

Fitzpatrick can win some games for the Dolphins and he will cost them a few, too. But he won’t just roll over for Tagovailoa. Fitzpatrick is a survivor.

The defense should be improved with the additions Miami has made. The cornerback combination of Xavien Howard and Jones will be one of the best in the NFL.

It is odd that Flores will have two new coordinators in his second year on the job. The Dolphins got Gailey to end his retirement for another run with Fitzpatrick. Those two were last together with the Jets in 2015-16.

Overall, the Dolphins should be much better than last year, but they may still be a year away from contending for the division crown.

Reason for hope

No team was more aggressive in free agency. The Dolphins handed out $150 million in salary guarantees and largely remade their team. Tagovailoa was seen as the No. 1 player in the NFL draft before his injury and Joe Burrow’s emergence. They may have landed a franchise quarterback with the No. 5 pick.

Reason for despair

The Dolphins are better, but they are still not a complete team. They also have a lot of new faces in a year that teams don’t have as much time to form chemistry because of the lack of spring practice. It could take a while before the Dolphins mesh.

Final word

The Dolphins went from teardown mode last year to aggressively building this year. Teams that win the offseason don’t usually win in the regular season. Flores has a challenge of building chemistry quickly with a lot of new faces and no in-person offseason program.

Too-early prediction

Third place in AFC East.

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