The Dolphins are making a sizable gamble on Ryan Tannehill with the hope that he not only produces a nice comeback story after a major knee injury, but also immediately start playing the best football of his life at 30.
And while that’s living a little more dangerously than some might be able to stomach, their logic is reasonable given how well he played last time he was on the field.
What doesn’t make sense, though, is that they’ve heightened the risk by going forward with the smallest possible safety net. With no addition in the draft and no proven free agent coming aboard, they’ve made this as difficult on themselves as possible.
The lesson they said they learned from last season’s debacle — David Fales, Matt Moore and $10 million man Jay Cutler combined for some of the worst quarterback play in the NFL — doesn’t seem to have stuck.
“Last year didn’t go, obviously, the way we hoped,” vice president Mike Tannenbaum said in January. “It gave us a chance to reflect on some things we could do better. Part of that is making sure that we have good depth at as many positions as possible, knowing that over the course of a 16-game season, they’re going to play. That’s what history shows us.”
Similarly, coach Adam Gase said it’s not prudent to go without contingency at quarterback, and owner Stephen Ross was so fed up by how poorly Tannehill’s fill-ins did last year that he dropped an f-bomb when assessing the season after the finale.
Yet here the Dolphins are, about two weeks away from the start of Organized Team Activities, and the fallbacks in case something goes wrong with Tannehill are Fales, Brock Osweiler and Bryce Petty. If Gase felt shaky proceeding with Moore as his starter last summer, imagine how unsettling it’ll be to march on with one of those three.
It’s hard to pick a frontrunner for the backup job, and that’s not good. The Miami secondary looks like it’ll be in for a fun spring of OTAs and minicamp as these guys try to separate themselves.
It’s very possible none of them would make an NFL roster other than the Dolphins’ this season.
Fales probably — maybe — has the inside track after performing well enough last year (mostly in practice) that he had Gase touting his potential this offseason and got re-signed. The Dolphins cut him at the end of the preseason last year, and he was out of the league until they called again when Cutler got hurt in October.
He’s played in three games since being drafted four years ago and in two appearances for the Dolphins last year, he completed 29 of 43 passes for a total of 265 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
Likewise, Osweiler hasn’t been flush with suitors over the past year. In fact, teams have worked noticeably hard to get rid of him.
Houston gave up a second-round pick last March just to get Cleveland to take his contract in a trade. On the hook for the rest of his guaranteed money either way, the Browns decided they were better off paying him $16 million to leave than to stay.
His best season, the one that landed him a four-year, $72 million contract, was in 2015. He stepped in for Peyton Manning in Denver and completed 61.8 percent of his passes for 1,967 yards and 10 touchdowns against six interceptions while posting a passer rating of 86.4.
That came after three years of being coached by Gase, who was with the Broncos when they drafted Osweiler at No. 57 overall in 2012 and left for Chicago in the 2015 offseason.
Petty, who was acquired on a waiver claim Friday, is the only one who has no history with Gase and he’s the least formed of the three. At 26, he’s a year younger than Fales and Osweiler.
The Jets drafted him in the fourth round in 2015, and he never broke through as a full-time starter. He stayed on the bench his entire first year, then appeared in 10 games over the next two. He completed 53.1 percent of his attempts, had four touchdown passes, threw 10 interceptions and mustered a 57.1 passer rating.
The best thing to be said of that trio is it’ll barely cost the Dolphins anything. The three of them combined — Miami will keep two, at most — are set to count $2.1 million against the salary cap this season. The rosiest view is that perhaps Gase, hired by this team in large part because of his reputation as a quarterback whisperer, can work his magic to turn at least one of them into a viable backup.
As good as Gase might be, that doesn’t look like a great hedge in case Tannehill can’t make it through the next seven months without interruption.
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