When the Miami Dolphins signed Jay Cutler in early August, many fans were understandably excited about the team's prospects for the 2017 season. In retrospect, though, we probably should have seen this coming. After the team's anemic offensive performance over the first four games, some fans are suggesting that Cutler's inability to move the ball or put points on the board with any degree of consistency somehow vindicates longtime starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Nothing could be further from the truth. Tannehill, through the first five seasons of his career, has never been anything more than a bottom tier QB in the National Football League. I know that sounds harsh, perhaps even mean-spirited, but that's exactly what he is, folks.
Last season, Tannehill finished 24th in ESPN's 'Total QBR' rating system, 26th, according to NFL.com and 28th according to Pro Football Reference. In case we need to be reminded, there are only 32 starting quarterbacks in the NFL in any given year. And 2016 was the best season of his career.
As for the argument that Ryan has proven harder to replace than we thought, that's because the only guy the team has ever tried to replace him with is an apparently washed up Jay Cutler. In just about any given season in which Ryan Tannehill was the starting QB for the Dolphins, at least one veteran, journeyman player at the position was available on the free agency market who could, and probably would, have put up similar numbers to Tannehill's, at a fraction of what the team is paying him. Don't believe me? I can just about guarantee you that most, if not all of the years that Ryan's been here, guys like Matt Cassel (career QB rating, 78.8), Josh McCown (79.0), who lit up Miami's defense like a pinball machine in Week Three or Ryan Fitzpatrick (79.7) could have been had either on the open market or for a late-round draft pick. Tanny's career rating is only 86.5, and that just ain't good enough. The question shouldn't be whether Tannehill is better than Cutler, but whether he's good enough to lead Miami to even one playoff appearance, much less a victory.
Much of Dolphins' fans fear and trepidation about even discussing the possibility of someone other than Ryan Tannehill being the team's starting quarterback can be traced to the dearth of talent the Dolphins have had since Marino retired. From 2000 through 2011, our starting QB's (and I'm only counting guys who started at least seven games) have been Jay Fiedler, Gus Frerotte, Joey Harrington, Cleo Lemon, Chad Pennington and Matt Moore. Pennington couldn't stay healthy and the rest of them pretty much stunk, so it's not hard to understand why fans feel compelled to want to hold onto Tannehill with both hands and not let go.
In some ways, Tannehill is the quintessential tease; he passes the eyeball test the moment he walks onto the field. He's tall, raw-boned and muscular and is a very good athlete. He makes Cutler look like he's 44, not 34, and his scrambling ability has been sorely missed this season. Although no one talks about it much, he has one of the strongest arms in the league and can send the ball downfield in a tight spiral with just a flick of his wrist, and off his back foot. The problem for Tannehill is that he's just never been able to put it all together, and with the next snap he takes in a regular season game nearly a year away, at which time he'll be a 30-year-old, sub .500 QB, his golden years as a starting quarterback may have passed him by without ever becoming golden.
Although you'd probably be hard-pressed to tell from my columns on him, I really like Ryan Tannehill; when the team selected him with the eighth overall pick in the 2012 draft, nobody wanted to see him succeed more than me. You can't help but want to root for the guy; he's humble and down to earth almost to a fault. Anybody remember that workout he did for Jon Gruden? I believe it's still on YouTube today. In the workout, and ensuing interview with Gruden afterward, every time Jon asks him a question, Ryan responds with, "Yes, sir." Spoiled brat athlete? Not Tannehill. You just don't see guys like him coming out of college anymore. What soured me on Ryan was when almost all the team's high draft picks were used solely and exclusively on offensive players throughout most of his career with the Dolphins. And let's be honest for a moment: do you really think the team would be much better with Tannehill in the lineup today? Sure, they'd be better than they are now, but that's not saying much. Would they be a playoff team? Doubtful. If Miami wants a competitive, lower cost option next year, while they groom a younger guy at the position, Tyrod Taylor will probably be available; Buffalo plucked him off the Ravens' practice squad a few years ago. His career QB rating is nearly six points higher than Tannehill's, at 92.0, without using all the high picks on offensive skill position players. They did spend two number ones on WR Sammy Watkins, but he missed almost as many games as he played for Buffalo and he's gone now. Miami will be hard-pressed not to be swept by the Bills this season. That's a team on the rise, and they've got two number ones, two number two's and two number three picks in the 2018 draft. They're where they are today in large part because they understand that first, second and third round picks should almost always be used one of two ways: to take defensive players or offensive linemen.