If everything goes according to plan, Tua Tagovailoa will be the Miami Dolphins quarterback for a long time.
But when will that time begin?
Will Tagovailoa become a Day 1 starter like Ryan Tannehill did in 2012?
Or will he sit behind a veteran quarterback the way Dan Marino did in 1983?
The answer obviously will become clearer as we get closer to the start of the 2020 (whenever/if that will be), but what seems like a strong possibility is that it will not be right at the start of Tua's rookie season.
The biggest reason perhaps is the presence on the roster of veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick, who gives the Dolphins a certain comfort level.
Let's not forget that Fitzpatrick led the Dolphins to a 5-4 record over the final nine games of the 2019 season with a roster that wasn't nearly as good as the one the team figures to field the next time it plays a regular season game.
Fitzpatrick not only made plays with his arm and his legs — let's repeat again he led the team in rushing — but also made valuable contributions as a leader and mentor for all the young players on the roster.
If the Dolphins could win five games down the stretch with Fitzpatrick leading a sub-par roster, there's every reason to believe he can help the team win games with better personnel around him.
Then there's the issue of making sure Tua is completely ready to play from a physical standpoint.
By all accounts, Tagovailoa is completely recovered from the hip injury that cut short his 2019 season, but rest assured the Dolphins are going to conversative if there's any doubt whatsoever because of what his history and because of what he could mean to the franchise.
The Dolphins have played a long game since the start of the 2019 offseason, the idea being to set themselves up to compete on a yearly basis. They're not about to change now just because they think they landed their quarterback.
When Marino replaced Super Bowl starter David Woodley during the third and fifth games of the 1983 season, started the sixth game against Buffalo, was brilliant and the rest is Dolphins and NFL history.
Under the ideal scenario, the same thing will happen with Tua.
After the Dolphins selected him with the fifth pick of the 2020 NFL draft, Tagovailoa said exactly what you would have expected when he was asked about his expectations coming into his rookie season.
I’m going to go out there and compete as if I’m preparing to be the starter, even if I’m not going to be the starter right away or the entire season," Tagovailoa said. "But I think that has to be the mindset, because you go in there and – competition is usually always healthy. It’s usually always healthy. And you not only get yourself better by doing it but you get the other guy better and you get the entire quarterback room better that way.”
Further complicating Tua's path to becoming a starter from Day One is the current situation keeping players away from the practice field.
There's no timetable for when training camps will open, but any delay there would be detrimental to Tua in terms of his ability to make an immediate impact because he does have a new offense to learn, new teammates with whom to build a rapport, and still needs to convince the Dolphins he's completely ready from a physical standpoint.
Having said all that, if Tagovailoa blows everybody away with his on-field and off-field work, the Dolphins aren't going to keep him out of the lineup for the sake of keeping him out of the lineup.
The idea is to maximize his prep time so that, again, once he's in, he's in for good.
Making a prediction on when that will happen is particularly difficult this year because of the extraordinarily unusual circumstances, but a best guess says Tua doesn't start on opening day. A more realistic timetable puts his big debut, say, at the quarter mark or halfway mark of the season depending on how well Fitzpatrick and the Dolphins are doing.
One could say a best-case scenario is that Fitzpatrick is even better than last year, the Dolphins make a run at the playoffs, and Tua just spends 2020 as a redshirt year.
Alain Poupart has covered the Miami Dolphins full time since 1989. You can follow him on Twitter at @apoupartFins.