Just a year ago, the Miami Dolphins were making a decision on what to do with quarterback Ryan Tannehill. The team’s first-round draft pick in 2012, Tannehill through seven seasons had not become the quarterback Miami wanted. A vocal portion of the fanbase criticized every throw, every drop back, every move Tannehill made, and they loudly called him a bum, trash, a bust, and a quarterback who could never win. A quarterback who could never make the playoffs. A quarterback who would never lead his team deep into January.
A year later, and Tannehill is now deep in January playing playoff football. He put up stats this regular season that elevated him to among the elite passers in the game. And, he is likely going to be named the AP Comeback Player of the Year after winning the award from the Pro Football Writers of America.
Tannehill is shutting up his critics and making Dolphins fans wonder why players leave Miami only to play better. Tannehill, Jamil Douglas, Cameron Wake (injured reserve), Greg Joseph, Damien Williams, Chad Henne, Matt Moore, Jordan Lucas, Earl Mitchell, Damontre Moore (injured reserve), and Billy Turner are all players on the Tennessee Titans, Kansas City Chiefs, San Francisco 49ers, and Green Bay Packers, the last four teams standing in the NFL.
It is not a matter of the player playing better, however. It is the player being put in a better situation. The biggest argument about Tannehill during his time in Miami was between fans who wanted the quarterback to raise the play of the rest of the team and fans who said the rest of the team needs to be improved to get the best out of the quarterback. In Tennessee, there is no discussion of the team needing to find a better offensive line or a running game. They have those pieces in place, and now Tannehill is succeeding.
And, yes, Tannehill has not thrown for 100 yards in a playoff game yet. That is because the Titans have not needed him to do anything more than they are asking. Derrick Henry has been the offense the last two games for the AFC’s sixth-seeded franchise. That does not mean Tannehill cannot do it, it just means he has not had to do it. Marcus Mariota had the Titans offensive line and Henry when he started the first seven games of the year for Tennessee. He threw and 1,203 yards on 59.4 precent completions with seven touchdowns, two interceptions, a 7.5 yards per attempt average, and a 92.3 passer rating.
Tannehill in 12 starts had 2,742 yards on a 70.3 percent completion rate with 22 touchdowns, six interception, a league-best 9.6 yards per attempt average, and a league-best 117.5 passer rating.
The quarterback is a huge piece to winning in the NFL. Without the right quarterback, you will struggle to score and your offense will not find a rhythm. But, if you have a quarterback capable of putting up numbers like Tannehill has this year and he does not do it, maybe the quarterback was not really the problem.
Miami has too often tried to force a player into a system. It did not work for Tony Sparano. It did not work for Joe Philbin. It did not work for Adam Gase. It does not work.
Brian Flores, in his first year as Miami’s head coach, seems to recognize that. He has moved players to where they will work best. He has adjusted the team to fit the player, rather than trying to force a player into a role that does not work.
He has not been perfect at it - Minkah Fitzpatrick proves that - but he is at least trying to do something different. Something that could work. Something that might make Miami a winner in the next few years, rather than a team that is consistently mediocre.
Tannehill had to move on. He needed the change, and Miami needed a change. There is no question that Tannehill’s time with the Dolphins had come to an end. However, with one win, Tannehill can return to South Florida, this time as a Super Bowl starting quarterback, looking to claim the ring that Miami had hoped he would bring them.
The Dolphins saw growth this year with DeVante Parker, another player who seemed to be on his way out, but the team decided to keep for one more year. Now, they appear to have their number one receiver.
There is a tendency for coaches, front office, and fans to make rushed decisions. There is a need to see immediate success in the NFL, or else something better is needed. Growth is hard when you see a player come in and have immediate success.
Teams need to be teams, not a bunch of players expecting the quarterback to solve all their problems. In Tennessee, the Titans have that. For too long, the Dolphins have looked like a club wanting the quarterback to be the answer.
Why do players leave Miami and do better?
It probably is not just the player. Even when that player plays quarterback.
Maybe the Dolphins need to worry about building a team, and not just finding the next great quarterback. Because, it appears a quarterback capable of getting to within a game of the Super Bowl can look like a bust, a bum, trash when he is forced into the wrong system or is not given the right support.
The Dolphins tore down the roster this past season to rebuild. Finding the right quarterback is important. Building the team and the system around the quarterback is more important.