There are reasons Ryan Tannehill has clung to the Miami Dolphins starting quarterback job for seven seasons — so far outliving five offensive coordinators, three general managers, and two head coaches, one of which happens to be a quarterback guru.
All those years, you see, Tannehill has been good at times and not good at others.
He’s been good enough to convince the Dolphins to let him continue. But he hasn’t been good enough to satisfy everyone he should remain indefinitely.
Even the current Dolphins brain trust, boldly supportive of Tannehill for three years, has private questions about him now.
And the great debate about Tannehill, in which any logical person can land on one side or the other depending on that week’s performance, may never truly get a definitive winner.
Because Tannehill has always been, as we already established, good enough to want to keep. But not good enough to keep indefinitely.
The definitive answer on what to do with Tannehill is supposed to come after this season. The Dolphins will decide if bringing him back as the starter for 2019 at a salary cap cost of some $26 million is wise. Or whether it’s time to move on.
And Tannehill, who this season has missed five games with a throwing shoulder injury, was to have the final six games to show the team which way to go.
Well, we’re two games into that six-game journey.
And guess what?
Tannehill is making it very hard. Because to practically no one’s surprise he has played all Tannehilly the first third of those final six games.
Some good. Some not.
And that’s not just me saying so. That’s the evaluation straight from the source.
“Some good, some bad. I think we’re heading in the right direction,” Tannehill said Wednesday when asked to evaluate himself since his return. “Obviously, some plays I would like to have back. Some plays I’m really happy with.
“I think that’s the continuous evolvement of playing the position is you’re always going to find some things that you do well, some plays you’d like to have back. As long as you’re improving and not making the same mistake twice, I think you’re heading in the right direction.”
The enigma here is that judging Tannehill’s play is so, so unscientific.
To go strictly by statistics the last two games, one would say without question Tannehill is playing well, and indeed, at a Top 10 NFL quarterback level.
He has completed 33 of 49 passes (67.3 completion percentage) for 341 yards, with five touchdown passes and one interception.
That amounts to a quarterback rating of 112.7
And the 5-1 TD to interception ratio would be light years better than Hall of Fame QBs typically post.
But here’s the thing:
Those stats, rating and all, don’t tell the whole story. Oh, they speak to some pretty good moments. Some amazing throws.
The touchdown Tannehill threw to DeVante Parker on Sunday as he was being clobbered by a blind-side rusher was outstanding. And the precision of the touchdown pass to Kenny Stills to give Miami the lead in the fourth quarter was also elite quarterback work.
But Tannehill still holds the football longer than he should, suggesting he still lacks the internal clock to know when to get rid of the ball or run. That showed when he was sacked for what was almost a safety against the Bills.
Tannehill still makes throws that suggest he doesn’t always read the whole field or go through his progressions quickly. And he’s gotten away with a couple of questionable throws that should have been intercepted but were dropped instead.
But there’s still that 112.7 quarterback rating. It glows in neon, as if saying “really good quarterback, really good quarterback.”
“I think that’s a good start,” Tannehil said of the rating. “Quarterback rating doesn’t tell you the whole picture, obviously. It means something. If you have a high rating, you’re obviously playing decent football. But I think I’ve done some things well and some things that I’d like to improve upon and get better at.”
The idea that Tannehill continues to bring up issues that trouble him causes me to wonder why he’s being so critical of himself.
“I like to be honest with myself of where I’m at,” Tannehill said. “You’re not going to have the perfect game, but that’s what I’m striving for. I’m striving to go out and play the perfect game. I think if you’re happy where you’re at, then you’re going to be in a bad spot moving forward.
“You’re not going to get any better. Obviously, I have a long way to go to get where I want to be. I think I’m doing alright, but (there are) a lot of plays that I’d like to be better at. I think we have a lot better football in front of us as an offense.”
That has been one of the arguments for sticking with Tannehill year after year. He’s still improving.
As coach Adam Gase said a month ago, it makes one wonder where the ceiling might be because maybe Tannehill hasn’t reached it yet.
And that gives strength to the idea that keeping Tannehill is the right call.
And then we look at the tape and see those familiar flaws again. And see that the team isn’t exactly moving down the field efficiently with Tannehill in charge. Against Buffalo, Tannehill barely threw for more yards (137) than counterpart Josh Allen ran for (135).
Then you remember how Tannehill looked compared to Indy’s Andrew Luck the week before and it just didn’t stack up.
So the stats are saying one thing. And the eyes are often saying something different.
Where does this leave the Dolphins?
Well, the team continues to do diligent work, even now, scouting college quarterbacks. And the evaluation period for the current quarterback has four more games before it’s played out.
But based on what we’ve seen for seven seasons, we should know what to expect between now and season’s end: Tannehill’s not likely to be consistently amazing for weeks. He’s not likely to be terrible.
He’s Ryan Tannehill.
And he’s going to make this important evaluation difficult for the Dolphins.