December 11, 2016, Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill was hit hard and went down to the turf. Over his first four seasons in the league, that was not an uncommon sight, as Tannehill continually was sacked and hit at near-record paces. This hit, by the Arizona Cardinals’ Calais Campbell, was different, however. Campbell hit Tannehill directely in the quarteback’s knee, bending it backward, and Tannehill, who played through blood in his urine a couple of years ago, could not get back up.
Immediately, fears that Tannehill had completely torn his ACL and would be out of action between nine and twelve months emerged.
The news, once MRI testing was completed, was more positive, however, as Tannehill was said to have a sprained ACL and MCL in the left knee. Sprains, by definition, are partial tears, but the ACL not being completely torn gave the team hope that surgery could be avoided, and even the small chance that, should the team advance deep into the playoffs, Tannehill would have been available.
That availability never materialize, both because the knee needed more time to heal and the Dolphins were knocked out of the playoffs in a Wildcard round loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, but the hopes that Tannehill would avoid surgery continued into the start of the offseason. The Dolphins only comments were to routinely say they were still gathering information and that they would wait for doctors to determine exactly what the treatment plan should be.
That led to speculation and criticism as fans and analysts debated whether the Dolphins and Tannehill should just go ahead and have surgery to be ready as early as possible for the next regular season, even if medically, the surgery was unnecessary. On Thursday, that debate seems to have been ended with a resounding no, he should not have had surgery.
According to reports from both the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post, Tannehill’s knee has passed the latest round of stability tests, and, as Armando Salguero wrote in the Herald, Tannehill’s knee was “ pronounced healed by team doctor John Uribe and with a concurring second opinion of respected surgeon Dr. James Andrews” and the quarterback will “be participating in the team’s conditioning program in April, OTA days which begin in May, minicamps after that, and training camp which is supposed to begin in late July.”
The reports also indicate that doctors feel there is no additional risk of re-injuring the ACL as compared to someone who has had the ACL surgically repaired. That is great news for Tannehill and the Dolphins.
Head coach Adam Gase will likely use Tannehill sparingly early in the offseason and training camp, making sure he gets comfortable on the knee before they start ramping up his use. The team did the same thing with defensive end Cameron Wake in 2016, as the Pro Bowler worked his way back from an Achilles tear mid-season in 2015. Tannehill will likely wear a knee brace as a protective measure.
Tannehill finished 2016 with 2,995 passing yards, a 67.1-percent completion rate, a 7.7-yards-per-attempt average, 19 touchdowns, 12 interceptions, and a 93.5 passer rating. His completion rate, yards per attempt, and passer rating were all career highs. He played in 12 of the team’s 16 regular season games.