Wow. With such high hopes for the 2016-2017 season, the Miami Dolphins find themselves 1-3 at the quarter mark of the season and look worse than they have in years, and that is really saying something. No where to be found is the high powered, up-tempo run by former offensive mastermind coordinator Adam Gase, now the head coach already being booed by fans. We will get to Gase later. The point of this article is to examine what exactly the Dolphins might do about their WR turned QB in his fifth year exhibiting the same struggles he posed as a rookie, the same struggled analysts offered before the 2012 NFL Draft when the Dolphins took this QB 8th overall.
That QB is of course Ryan Tannehill.
Has there been a more discussed quarterback for a franchise in the past five seasons than Tannehill? He was the chosen one. He was going to right the ship of a team that had been without an identity for the better part of the new millennium. He was going to use his athleticism to make plays both inside and outside of the pocket. Despite his lack of experience, he was going to lead the Dolphins to the playoffs.
Now, I am going to stick up for RT17 for a moment, before progressing in this analysis of the fifth year signal caller. In his defense, Ryan Tannehill has had to learn 3+ different offenses, has had 3+ head coaches, 3+ offensive coordinators, and now 3+ quarterback coaches. To ask someone (who wasn't even a four year starting QB in college) to go through that and get significantly better each season, is insane.
Add in the fact that Tannehill has NEVER had a fully healthy and functional offensive line or running game to aid his case, and you can see what he has made so many errors and has been so inconsistent. He is the most sacked QB in the league since entering the NFL five years ago. Then, add in the fact that he was never able to audible or change the play at the line of scrimmage, and it all starts becoming more clear.
Tannehill was never put in a position to truly to succeed, to truly hit his potential. He was never developed properly. He is the product of the team's own infrastructural inadequacies.
Okay, defense over. Working against Tannehill are natural characteristics that he just doesn't have. His pocket presence is non-existent.
He doesn't know when to get rid of the ball, and he struggles to recognize defenses and audible to the correct play. He is the master of the strip-sack-fumble, and he rarely uses his legs for good. These are things he simply does not have, and it shows on the field. Still with me? Let's keep going.
Flash forward to Week 3 of this season, now year 5 for Ryan Tannehill, to the team's first home game against the Cleveland Browns. The offense can't seem to get going the entire game, despite the defense doing its part and holding the Browns to five field goals. Tannehill's stat line is prettier than the game he's played. A touchdown, under 200 yards passing, and a fumble given up.
The 'Fins somehow are gifted the game against the Browns and have a 4 day turnaround to play the Cincinnati Bengals on TNF in front of everyone. This would be the game Tannehill breaks out.
And then he didn't. He and the Dolphins offense played even worse, despite benching multiple players who were not performing (on both sides of the ball). Gase's troops, working under the mastermind coordinator himself, totaled just 114 yards of total offense after two huge plays to open the games. Blame what you want on the defense, but when the offense can't move the ball for more than 114 yards in three quarters, you can't seriously expect your defense to play well and keep you in the game.
So here we are, in year 5 of our franchise QB's career, and if anything, he has taken a step backwards from his first four seasons. His entire career can be described with one word: inconsistent. And now, Adam Gase will have to make a potentially career-defining decision before he even starts his second season as head coach.
He has to decide what to do at the QB position.
I personally believe Gase will stick with Tannehill at least for the near future. As badly as this offense has been, Tannehill and the Dolphins have been in three out of their first four contests up until the final minutes of the fourth quarter. But the offense and QB play has gotten progressively worse with each game. At the rate this offense is going, they won't record a single positive play come Week 8.
Let's say Tannehill continues to play at his current level, and this Dolphins offense continues to stagnate. At the end of this season, or at some point this season even, Gase and the Dolphins will have to make a move. They will have to either commit to Tannehill and try to build up the team around him, change the identity of the offense (not likely under Gase's control), or give another QB the opportunity to play.
The Dolphins will HAVE to make this decision soon, considering the way Tannehill's contract is set up. I'll admit, even I needed help understanding the way his contract is structured, so I solicited the help of the guys over at Phinsider. Please quickly read this article, it does a great job of walking you through how Tannehill's contract works.
As you can see, the Dolphins expertly structured RT17's contract to give them an out after 2016 if he should not perform up to the team's standards. After this year, the Dolphins would only have to pay "6.9 million in dead money from the bonus and 3.5 million of the 2017 season" (via the Phinsider).
This would be a small price to pay for a team who could move in another direction to spark a still-beating offense.
The question would then become?
Gase would most definitely have a say in who his play caller from the future would be, and he would have to turn to a lackluster group of Free Agents or the 2017 NFL Draft Class.
Let's take a brief look at both.
2017 Free Agent QB's
All of these, as of now, are still pending free agent QBs for the 2017 season. The top candidates even considerable for a starting QB job under Gase in Miami include: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Case Keenum, and Blaine Gabbert. With Blaine Gabbert and Keenum actually playing pretty well right now for their respective teams, that means a player with Ryan Fitzpatrick's caliber would be available. Just as a point of comparison, it should be known Fitzpatrick has thrown 9 interceptions in his last two games.
Of course, we don't know who will be released or traded or let go before 2017 FA kicks off, but as of now, the options are no better than RT17.
2017 NFL Draft
Here is where things get interesting. Gase could have his pick (assuming the Dolphins keep losing) of the 2017 QBs entering the draft. The top 4 prospects as of now (according to CBS Sports) are Clemson Tigers QB Deshaun Watson, Notre Dame's DeShone Kizer, Miami (Fl) QB Brad Kaaya, and Mississippi's Chad Kelly.
Of these four, Kaaya and Watson stick out to me. Watson has the rare athletic ability to make plays with his legs in a more pro-style offense, and would be hard to pass up given his skill set. But Kaaya has the Miami connection, though lacking arm strength. Either could be considered by Gase and the Dolphins should they decide to move on from Tannehill. But taking a QB (again) in round 1 would mean failing to address the team's other pressing needs, such as another offensive lineman, linebackers, and cornerbacks.
The Sad Reality
What kind of conclusion can we draw from this season thus far and the play of RT17? The sad reality is that this football team is still years away from winning. Adam Gase is trying to change a culture that has seen a playoff drought lasting back to the 2008 season. This team lacks talent at key positions, toughness, strength, and more importantly the mental fortitude needed to win in this league.
All of these things, barring toughness, are reflected in the play of Ryan Tannehill and this offense. Let's hope this team and more importantly Tannehill can make something positive out of this season, can right the ship, and can more importantly change the culture of this team before next year.