2018 NFL Draft: QB sensible for Dolphins regardless of Ryan Tannehill

Ryan Tannehill really isn’t a factor in the Dolphins’ draft decision this year. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

MOBILE, Ala.—This kind of lofty thinking will stretch anybody’s imagination, but try for a moment to picture a scenario in which the Dolphins have too many good quarterbacks.

That’s a hard one to picture considering how often it’s been the case that they’ve had none. This prosperous position is attainable, though, and the No. 11 pick in this year’s NFL Draft is the key to setting themselves on course for it.

As the Dolphins arrive for this week’s Senior Bowl practices with Mike Tannenbaum, Chris Grier and a team of scouts, they’ll be sure to catch every rep by top-line quarterback prospects Josh Allen and Baker Mayfield.

That probably won’t bother Ryan Tannehill in the slightest, and it shouldn’t. This really doesn’t have much to do with him.

Regardless of how close Miami management believes the roster is to contending in the AFC and how much it believes in Tannehill, cashing in on this year’s first-round pick is vital. It’s an opportunity the team hopes it won’t have often. If the power trio of Tannenbaum, Grier and Adam Gase succeeds, the Dolphins won’t be in position to take this good of a quarterback anytime soon.

But, since they happen to sit here after a 6-10 season in which they shelled out $10 million for Jay Cutler’s mediocrity and eschewed longtime backup Matt Moore in favor of David Fales, drafting a quarterback in April is emerging as the most logical use of this golden ticket.

Tannehill, soon to be 30, is still Miami’s guy for this season and the next couple. Gase believes he has everything he needs to thrive at that position, and there’s good cause for that optimism as long as he’s healthy after two major issues with his left knee.

He has yet to prove himself as more than a league-average quarterback, but signs that he could be a franchise fixture surfaced in Year 3. As much as it feels like Tannehill’s been around forever, he’s played only five seasons since the Dolphins took him eighth overall in 2012.

Considering he was immediately thrust into the starting role as a rookie, it’s more than fair to write off the first two seasons as a developmental period. No doubt he gets a pass for that 2015 season when he was sacked a staggering 58 times, or once every 11 drop backs.

That leaves three seasons worth evaluating, 2014 through ’16, and he stacks up reasonably well against his peers over that span.

During those three years, Tannehill was ninth in completion percentage (64.9), 15th in passer rating (91.5), 14th in touchdowns (70), 14th in percentage of passes intercepted (2.3) and 15th in yards per game (250).

But what’s even more important is he took another step forward under Gase. indicating he hasn’t peaked yet. He put up career highs in several categories, including passer rating, and played the best six-game stretch of his career shortly before injuring his knee.

While he lost this year on the field, he helped himself by staying completely dialed into meetings, practices, game plans and offensive calls during game. That’ll help him hit the ground running.

Now here’s where Mayfield or Allen would come into play. The Dolphins need to grab a quarterback of that caliber while it’s sitting there for them—if they’re convinced over the next three months that they actually are that caliber. The goal would be to develop a rookie into at least a viable backup the first with an eye on having him ready to start in Year 3.

Until then, he’s not a threat to Tannehill. He’s an insurance policy.

Tannehill won’t even need Gase to reassure him of that. He’s extremely confident in his return from the knee injury and he’s been a cool customer throughout plenty of upheaval and criticism during his time with the Dolphins. He won’t grimace if they draft someone at his position, and he’s exactly the type of person who would embrace the role of mentoring a rookie.

If everything goes right, that sets Miami up with a surplus at quarterback going into the 2020 season. That’s a great problem to have.

Coincidentally, Tannehill’s contract is up at the end of 2020.

If this year’s pick is so overwhelming by that point, it’ll be time to move on from Tannehill. If Tannehill has fully proven himself, the Dolphins can flip their up-and-comer the way New England did with Jimmy Garoppolo this year.

The Patriots kept drafting quarterbacks well after realizing that Tom Brady had potential to be an all-time great. They took Matt Cassel and Jimmy Garoppolo, among others, and flipped them once they turned into something valuable. The only quarterback Miami’s drafted during the Tannehill era is seventh-rounder Brandon Doughty, who hasn’t spent one in-season day on the active roster.

Taking one in the first round is more financially feasible than ever given the league’s current contract structure. It’s no longer a pair of cement shoes if it doesn’t work out.

Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, for example, went No. 10 overall in 2017 and got a four-year, $16.4 million deal. His cap hit this season is a shade under $3 million, which is about what the Dolphins paid for offensive guard Jermon Bushrod. It’s also a lot cheaper than Smokin’ Jay.

Whether Tannehill makes it through next season healthy, whether he rises to the stature Gase envisions, this is the prudent move if the Dolphins are convinced by Mayfield or Allen. This week will give them a good start on that investigation.

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