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Brokenhearted QB Ryan Fitzpatrick questions NFL future after demotion

Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (14) was demoted on Tuesday to a backup role and now questions his future as an NFL starter. File Photo by Archie Carpenter/UPI
Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (14) was demoted on Tuesday to a backup role and now questions his future as an NFL starter. File Photo by Archie Carpenter/UPI | License Photo

MIAMI, Oct. 22 (UPI) -- Journeyman quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick thinks his recent demotion from Miami Dolphins starter to Tua Tagovailoa's backup could be the end of his run as a starting quarterback in the NFL.

The Dolphins informed Fitzpatrick and Tagovailoa of the move on Tuesday before the team announced Tagovailoa as their starter on Wednesday.

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"There was a lot of stuff going through my mind, just from a personal standpoint, not necessarily with the team; but is this it? Was that my last game as an NFL player in terms of being the starter and going out there and playing? And you just kind of go through all those different scenarios," Fitzpatrick said in a video call with reporters.

"I've been a starter. I've been benched all kinds of different ways, but this one -- this one just really more so than any of them -- I think 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.

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"And so to have that, I think that's a lot of the reason why my heart was so heavy. That's a direction that the organization is going. I've just got to accept it."

Fitzpatrick, 37, started six games this season for the Dolphins. He completed a career-best 70.1 percent of his passes for 1,535 yards, 10 scores and seven interceptions and led the team to a 3-3 record.

The Dolphins selected Tagovailoa with the No. 5 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Fitzpatrick joined the team before the 2019 season and is not under contract for the 2021 season.

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The veteran quarterback said he did not ask for a trade after he learned of his demotion, which came despite his success on the field in 2020 and the team's spot in second place in the AFC East. He also said he prefers starting when asked about a potential return next season as Tagovailoa's backup.

"In terms of the other stuff, the long-term future, I have no idea," Fitzpatrick said. "I know that I just love playing this game.

"I love being out there and the camaraderie that that brings and dealing with the adversity with your teammates; those are the kind of things that I truly love about this game, so I definitely like playing more than I like sitting and watching."

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Fitzpatrick has one of the most remarkable career arcs in NFL history. The Harvard product entered the league as a seventh-round pick by the St. Louis Rams in the 2005 NFL Draft. He joined the Cincinnati Bengals in 2007 before he joined the Buffalo Bills in 2009. Fitzpatrick spent four seasons in Buffalo before short tenures with the Tennessee Titans, Houston Texans and New York Jets.

He joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2017 before he signed with the Dolphins before the 2019 season.

Fitzpatrick has 145 career starts for eight NFL franchises. He has started games in 14 of his 16 seasons. Fitzpatrick has started all 16 games in a season three times. He started 13 games in 2019 for the Dolphins.

Fitzpatrick owns a 58-86-1 career record as a starter.

He has eight career Player of the Week awards. He also ranks 34th all-time in passing touchdowns (220), which is more than Terry Bradshaw, Kurt Warner, Joe Namath, Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach.

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Because of that experience, the Dolphins had the luxury to work Tagovailoa into their lineup at a slower pace than other franchises that selected quarterbacks early in the draft.

Tagovailoa also became close to Fitzpatrick this off-season and said Wednesday he considers himself to be in a father-son relationship with the veteran quarterback.

"Me and 'Fitz' had a conversation about all of this," Tagovailoa said. "Like I've continued to say, although it kind of 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."

Dolphins coach Brian Flores and general manager Chris Grier informed the two quarterbacks of the decision before they spoke to the rest of the team. Flores said he was upset that other players found out the news Tuesday before he was able to explain the move.

He also said he thought the move was "the best thing for the team," but did not expand on why Fitzpatrick was demoted. Flores worked with Grier and the Dolphins personnel department to evaluate both players.

Tagovailoa has impressed the team with his decision-making and accuracy at practice. Flores called Fitzpatrick a "tremendous asset" for the Dolphins and said he has been "instrumental" in helping to instill a new team culture for the franchise.

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Fitzpatrick said he'll continue to stay ready in his new role despite an uncertain career outlook.

"If you draft a guy fifth overall [Tagovailoa] and put him in, this isn't a temporary -- this is a forever decision," Fitzpatrick said.

"This is a long-term decision. ... I'm always ready to go and 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 that I've now been given and trying to do the best I can in that role."

The Dolphins have a Week 7 bye before they return to the field for Tagovailoa's first start at 1 p.m. EDT on Nov. 1 in Miami Gardens, Fla. Tagovailoa will take on two-time Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald, fellow All-Pro Jalen Ramsey and the Los Angeles Rams in his debut as a starter.

The Rams have the No. 4 pass defense in the NFL.

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