Should the Dolphins give up on Ryan Tannehill?
By Dan Heaning
This past Miami Dolphins season was a rough one for the franchise and fans alike. It was so disappointing that it left some calling for the front office to hit the reset button.
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The trouble with that plan is the Dolphins have a $77 million save point in quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
So that may be one tough reset button to press and it doesn’t seem like an option that owner Stephen Ross and VP of Football Operations Mike Tannenbaum want to explore. But is that best for the Dolphins? Are they held back by average quarterback play?
The fourth-year quarterback from Texas A&M has regressed this season in the eyes of many and some, like the Sun Sentinel’s Omar Kelly, are suggesting the team move on to other options like Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch.
However, in order to move on from Tannehill, it should be figured out what has gone wrong with the 27-year-old starting QB rather than just pining for the shiniest new toy.
First, Tannehill was always going to be a project at the quarterback position. He played his first two years in college as a wide receiver. His first season as a quarterback for the Aggies he threw for only 1,638 yards in 13 games. It was only when he stood out as a senior that desperate-for-quarterback teams like the Dolphins and Browns started looking to draft Tannehill.
And it’s not like Tannehill hasn’t proven that he is a decent quarterback. His campaign during the 2014 season gave Dolphins fans hope that he was about to rise into the elite stratosphere.
On the other hand, when taking his entire body of work into account, he has been mostly average to this point. That’s been Tannehill’s largest criticism. Not that he’s a bad quarterback, but just simply average. And when everyone is expecting Tannehill to become one of the best, it appears more like he’s turning into just another overpaid quarterback.
His numbers in every advanced stat reflect his mediocrity. He hovers below, and only in rare occasions, above the line of an average quarterback.
Tannehill has only been a better than ordinary quarterback in six instances of advanced passing. He produced a great 2014 season when he was above par in completion, touchdown and interception percentage as well as quarterback rating. There are only two other instances where Tannehill was better than normal, in his rookie campaign he had slightly above average marks in interception percentage and this season he’s done well in touchdown percentage.
In comparison, number one overall pick in the 2012 NFL Entry Draft Andrew Luck has produced above average play in every advanced stat from adjusted yards to rating for most of his career.
Tannehill’s quarterback rating has hit abysmal levels as well. When compared to his fellow 2012 drafted quarterbacks, who are starters, Tannehill is somewhere between Luck and Nick Foles.
The Dolphins starting quarterback fell from a QBR of 58 last season to 43.1 this past season. In contrast, Luck had a rating of 47.6 in an injury-riddled campaign and Nick Foles, who has been in and out of the lineup for the Rams, has a QBR of 30.
That still doesn’t take into account the one common “excuse” for Tannehill’s play: the Dolphins dreadful offensive line. So perhaps the difference between Luck and Tannehill is that one has an offensive line and the other doesn’t.
Not so much.
The Dolphins’ laughably terrible offensive line has actually been better than the Colts’ pass protection since both Luck and Tannehill entered the league.
In expected points added, the Colts offensive line has never been better than Miami’s when protecting their young quarterback. Just by stepping onto the field to shield their passer, the Colts lost 15 to 18 points while Luck’s been the starting quarterback.
Furthermore, when the Dolphins gave up a record 58 sacks in 2013 their passing EPA was -12.8 so Miami lost about 13 points by going into pass protection. But the Colts offensive line was actually worse than historically horrible. Their passing EPA was -17.8.
Yet, Luck has somehow taken less sacks than Tannehill. The Dolphins QB has been sacked 184 times in 64 games meanwhile the Stanford alum has hit the ground 115 times in 55.
Despite Tannehill being sacked more than any other quarterback since 2012, the Colts have allowed their quarterbacks to be hit more than the Dolphins’ unit by a margin of 450 to 371.
Suffice it to say, Luck has eluded the pressure brought on by his wretched offensive line and turned in some great seasons with playoff appearances. Despite his struggles, no one is calling for his head in Indianapolis. He’s hit elite status.
Meanwhile, Tannehill takes sack after sack resulting in two straight seasons that the Dolphins blew chances to make the playoffs late and instead went 8-8.
So while the Dolphins face many, many tough decisions this offseason pertaining to the fates of players like Olivier Vernon, Lamar Miller and Rishard Matthews, the team desperately needs to find a way to push Tannehill’s progression forward.
Cutting him is not an option for next season. If the Miami top brass release Tannehill, they’ll have to cut about $11.4 million in salary immediately just to get out of the red.
To put that into perspective and without cutting any big names, the Dolphins would have to release Greg Jennings, Jason Fox, Jamar Taylor, Dallas Thomas, Walt Aikens, Damien Williams and all three McCains (Chris, Bobby and Brice) to just get $168,241 in cap room by moving on from Tannehill.
That’s a lot of positions to fill up with no money to make it happen just to get an “average” quarterback to not play for your team.
So like it or not Dolphins fans, Tannehill is here to stay, but the promise that he matures into an elite quarterback may be completely gone.