So I guess the lines are drawn.
Miami Dolphins coach Adam Gase believes quarterback Ryan Tannehill “keeps getting better.” Gase believes the more Tannehill “keeps playing, he keeps learning game to game.” Gase is wondering where Tannehill’s ceiling is at because, he says, “I don’t think we’re close to it. I think we just keep getting better.”
We know Gase thinks this because he said so on Thursday.
So on this fine Friday morning I am pondering what this all means.
It can only mean one of two things:
1. Gase doesn’t really believe this stuff (Dear Lord Jesus, please let this be the case) but is saying it because he feels some weird urgent need to protect Ryan Tannehill from any critic or criticism to the extent he’s attacking any questioning of Tannehill’s prowess — even if he does it in an unprofessional and condescending manner. And, yes, even if he has to lie.
2. Gase really does believe his own rhetoric — despite ample tangible evidence to the contrary that Tannehill has not actually played better and was actually playing pretty much as he was in 2016 before he began suffering multiple injuries.
So maybe Gase does think Tannehill is getting better by the game. And has a ceiling so high it’s still impossible to measure.
At age 30.
After 2,766 NFL pass attempts.
In which case this franchise is doomed because it means the head coach who thought Jay Cutler was going to be very good in 2017 now is convinced Tannehill has shown everyone improvement in 2018. Even when, you know, Tannehill hasn’t shown anything of the kind.
So this is going to get very interesting from here on..
If Gase is just posturing to prop up his guy to keep him feeling positive at a time the quarterback is missing games again, then that moment when the coach’s real feelings on Tannehill come out is going to shock some people.
Including Tannehill himself.
Gase and the rest of the Dolphins brain trust is going to have to make a decision on Tannehill after this season. They’re going to have to decide whether to keep him or break ties. And I imagine Tannehill today expects a coach who says he has a ceiling not yet reached will stay the course and be all in for Year 8 of Tannehill as the Dolphins starter.
If Gase really remains sold on Tannehill in the truest sense that he’s putting his professional reputation on the line in front of a fan base and ownership, then he better be dead on right. It’s hard to be a quarterback whisperer but not know the difference between an elite quarterback and a merely solid guy after spending three seasons with that player.
All of this will play out during the next six months. And that is a time that will be pivotal in Dolphins history because the decision on the starting quarterback is among the great determining factors deciding an NFL team’s success or failure.
I’m going to assume Gase was not posturing Thursday when he couldn’t admit what is the obvious truth, which is Tannehill was not better in the five games he started prior to his shoulder injury in mid-October than he was in 2016.
I’m going to assume Gase really believes in Tannehill. I generally trust what people say and take them at their word. So let’s assume Gase wasn’t acting or playing some mind game Thursday.
In which case, that has to mean Tannehill will be the Dolphins quarterback again in 2019.
I know Tannehill’s injury status is a question mark and one that grows with each game he misses. But teams with a quarterback that has a high ceiling not yet reached don’t jettison that QB because of an injury.
If you’re talking about high ceilings, you’re looking into the future and imagining getting up there where elite quarterbacks reside.
And smart teams don’t jettison that type of quarterback. So if Gase truly believes what he said Thursday, Tannehill has a home in Miami next season.
And this is where the drawn lines I wrote about earlier kick in. Because while Gase is busy erecting a bust to Tannehill in the offseason, I would be busy finding a quarterback not named Tannehill to move the franchise forward.
So … who?
Everyone agrees that barring a couple of special underclassmen coming out in the draft, next year’s quarterback class is going to be a challenge for quarterback-needy teams. And by challenge I mean there is no one at this point that looks like a can’t miss guy.
Oregon’s Justin Herbert will be a popular name. So will Missouri’s Drew Lock, West Virginia’s Will Grier, and maybe one or two others. And by the time the draft actually rolls around maybe only two of these guys look like legitimate first-round picks.
And they will likely be selected fairly early by teams such as Jacksonville or the New York Giants or Tampa Bay Bucs.
The problem with this for the Dolphins will be twofold:
Firstly, are the Dolphins going to be in a position to grab one of those top QBs?
I’ve made the point to you that steady mediocrity is one of the greatest enemies of building a great NFL team. And the Dolphins define steady mediocrity, with their 196-196 record during the past 25 years, with their 4-4 record this season and their 20-20 head coach.
It’s hard to pick high in the draft when you’re mediocre, and so it makes escaping more mediocrity difficult.
You know where the incessantly mediocre Dolphins would draft if they remain where they currently stand in the draft order? At No. 16.
Right smack in the middle of the first round.
So unless the team is going to mortgage picks in 2019 and beyond to fly up the draft board for a quarterback beloved by the brain trust, that great quarterback prospect is going elsewhere.
So my answer?
Sign Teddy Bridgewater. He’s scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent after this season.
I know what the detractors will say: Bridgewater is no better than Tannehill.
That might be true. But since we’re talking about ceilings for quarterbacks, I believe Bridgewater has a higher ceiling than Tannehill.
Bridgewater will be 26 soon. Tannehill will be 31 next season.
Bridgewater truly does have his best football ahead of him.
Bridgewater will most assuredly not cost the Dolphins $26 million on their salary cap as Tannehill would. My guess is he would be more in the $15 million to $19 million range — of which $13 million the Dolphins could have by cutting Tannehill.
Bridgewater doesn’t have as good an arm as Tannehill and frankly doesn’t have as much experience as Tannehill. He hasn’t really played since 2015 when he took the Minnesota Vikings to the playoffs.
But Bridgewater has better instincts in the pocket. He feels pressure better. His accuracy has often seemed, well, better. (And I’m talking real accuracy on downfield passing, not completion percentage propped up by endless bubble screens and stats-padding flip passes that are disguised as 74-yard touchdowns.)
Is Bridgewater a complete quarterback? Of course not. He basically has only two seasons of NFL experience because he was injured all of 2016 and much of 2017 and now he’s a backup in New Orleans.
But I like Bridgewater. I’ve watched him play since he was at Northwestern High School in Miami. I know the Dolphins already like him because, as I reported in August, the Dolphins wanted to sign him last offseason.
Next offseason Bridgewater will have a year of apprenticeship under Drew Brees. I don’t see how that can be a negative.
I don’t see how turning the franchise over to Bridgewater next year could be a negative. That’s where I differ from Gase — who is busy waiting to see about Ryan Tannehill’s ceiling in Year 7 and presumably next year.
Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero