Cue that acoustic Green Day song, because Ryan Tannehill and the Miami Dolphins are facing a turning point. A fork stuck in the road, perhaps.
This could be the last season Ryan Tannehill is prominently involved in a divisional feud with the New England Patriots.
The Dolphins quarterback’s new contact, handed out in May 2015, had some expected improvement built into it. His cap hit was just $4.87 million in 2015 — a bargain for any quarterback. It’s $11.6 million this season, which is still a value, given it’s the 21st highest among quarterbacks — 20 starters and San Francisco 49ers backup Colin Kaepernick. You’d be hard-pressed to argue Tannehill isn’t at least in the range of being the 21st best quarterback in the NFL.
His cap hit precipitously jumps to $20.3 million in 2017 — tied for sixth highest among quarterback with the Green Bay Packers’ Aaron Rodgers and ahead of guys like Cam Newton, Philip Rivers, Eli Manning, Andrew Luck, Drew Brees, Russell Wilson, Ben Roethlisberger and Tom Brady, to name a few.
The Dolphins would be insane to invest that much of their cap in an average starting quarterback, especially when the contract was designed with an escape clause. But lock them in an asylum, they might be.
Had Tannehill noticeably improved from 2014 to 2015, we might not even be discussing this. Young starting quarterbacks are hard to come by, and Tannehill, by definition, is just that. He completed 66.4 percent of his passes in 2014 for 4,045 yards with 27 touchdowns, 12 interceptions, 311 rushing yards, a rushing touchdown and nine fumbles.
He completed 61.9 percent of his passes in 2015 for 4,208 yards with 24 touchdowns, 12 interceptions, 141 rushing yards, a rushing touchdown and 10 fumbles.
Are you an analytics guy? His QBR was 51.8 in 2015 — down from 62.2 in 2014. It was 36.1 in his first start of 2016, which seems low. Tannehill wasn’t great against the Seattle Seahawks, but his receivers and offensive line didn’t help him.
It’s easy to make excuses for the very-skilled Tannehill. He’s on his third head coach — one interim — and fourth offensive coordinator in five seasons. He has the prototypical size for a quarterback at 6-foot-4, 216 pounds and runs like a receiver, which makes sense because he was one in college.
But a great quarterback shines through with those kind of traits. Tannehill just kind of plods along each season. No one is terrified of going against Tannehill, except, apparently, Bill Belichick, who was a little too effusive in praising Tannehill on Wednesday.
“He’s a good quarterback,” Belichick said. “He’s smart, he handles the offense well, he certainly takes control of things at the line of scrimmage, as we’ve seen quarterbacks do in Coach (Adam) Gase’s offense. It obviously runs through the quarterbacks. It tracks adjustments, but he’s a good decision maker, he’s athletic, throws the ball well. He can certainly make plays out of the pocket. … He’s a good player. He’s definitely a problem for us.”
But he also could be a problem for the Dolphins with a $20 million cap hit.
If Tannehill doesn’t show improvement in 2016, the Dolphins could — like telling yourself you’ll try one more time to beat that level before going to bed — give him another year to see if a second under Gase is what it takes. But that’s because NFL teams are terrified of not having a quarterback. It’s why teams lock up young quarterbacks to easily escaped massive contracts. If Tannehill doesn’t improve, it’s time to give him a fresh start and cut bait. The Dolphins are treading water, and Tannehill hasn’t exactly propelled them since 2012.
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