In recent weeks, the debate has raged here on the Phinsider board: is Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill a franchise QB, or isn't he? Before we tackle that question, though, we must first define what a franchise QB is. If we define the term 'franchise quarterback' as a guy who can carry the team on his back and more or less will the team to victory week in and week out, then no, Tannehill is not a franchise QB and probably never will be. But, seriously, how many franchise quarterbacks are there in the NFL? By my count, starting on the East coast, you've got Brady, Ryan, Roethlisberger, Brees, and Rodgers. That's it; five bona fide guys, and maybe even just four, if we're being exceedingly tough in our qualifying requirements. Matt Ryan, in my estimation, only just squeaks in at the bottom of that list. Some would argue, perhaps compellingly, that the Panthers' Cam Newton, as much for what he does with his legs as with his arms, could be considered, as well.
The question, instead, should be, can Ryan Tannehill lead the Miami Dolphins to a Super Bowl win? And the answer to that question, in my opinion, should be, emphatically, 'yes'. Now, as most of our readers probably know by now, I'm far from being a 'Tannapologist'; the sixth-year quarterback has his issues. However, I'm not sure there's another guy out there whom the front office could acquire that would be any better to lead this team on the field. As has been well documented, my main beef with Tannehill has been the allocation of draft picks since he arrived in Miami five years ago. Now that the team has apparently gotten that straightened out, I no longer view him as the franchise killer that I did just a couple of months ago.
No quarterback, not even Dan Marino or Peyton Manning in their primes, could overcome a weak, ineffective roster. Does anyone really believe that New England would have won either of their two recent 'megabuck' titles without having the top pass defense, or close to it, in the league? Would Drew Brees have won that Super Bowl a few years back without multi-purpose threat Reggie Bush at running back, and offensive wunderkind Sean Payton as head coach? Even then, most observers believe the Colts would have won that game, if not for the successfully executed onside kick to start the second half of that Super Bowl. A quarterback can only be as good as the team and the talent assembled around him.
'But, Cranehead, haven't you spent most of the past couple of years bashing Ryan Tannehill ?' No, I haven't. What I've been bashing is the Miami Dolphins' front office refusing, again and again, to select defensive players in the draft. Outside of that one column a couple of months ago (alright, so there are a lot of people who have 'Ryan' as their first name), I think I've been very fair to the young man. What a lot of folks tend to forget is that long before there was 'Air Marino', or Fantasy Football, the Dolphins were known, and feared, for their defense. Only once during the past 34 years has a team with the top-ranked defense in the league advanced to the Super Bowl and failed to win it. The team with the top-ranked offense has gone to the big dance multiple times - like the 2001 St. Louis Rams - and come away a loser. Just this past season, the Atlanta Falcons scored a league-high 33.8 points per game, yet lost the Super Bowl.
Tannehill actually has quite a bit going for him as a starting QB: number one, his arm strength. Does anyone want to guess why Brian Hartline, a borderline star in Miami, saw his career quickly flame out when he arrived in Cleveland? No Browns jokes here, please. I guarantee you nobody's going to want to play Cleveland this season. The Browns didn't have a quarterback with the kind of arm strength Tannehill possesses, to throw those deep out sideline patterns that Hartline excelled at. Few teams do. The other big advantage to having Tannehill as your starting QB is that he rarely commits a turnover that you can say with one hundred percent certainty was his fault. Almost every quarterback, from time to time, will throw a pass right to an opposing player, and you want to just throw a brick at your television set. Tannehill is careful almost to a fault. Indeed, more than one Dolphins offensive coordinator has had to tell the quarterback to not worry about making a mistake and just 'let it rip'. Then there is his athleticism; he's always a threat to take off downfield on the zone read play.
Finally, he's a natural leader. From the very first day, he stepped on the practice field, you could see that the other players on the team would gravitate to him. It's something we tend to take for granted, but not all quarterbacks have this quality. Until he won his first Super Bowl, Eli Manning didn't. So, in sum, asking whether Tannehill is a franchise QB is a ridiculous question, because almost no one is. If we ask, though, whether the Dolphins can win a championship with him at the helm, I would say yes. Now, if the front office continues to fortify the roster on both sides of the ball, and at some point, the team feels he isn't the guy, so be it. But quite a few quarterbacks less talented than Tannehill have won titles. Until and unless Miami can find someone better, they seem content to let Ryan fight the good fight.