MOBILE, Ala.—If everything goes according to the Dolphins’ plans, Ryan Tannehill will be their starting quarterback for years to come. Plans don’t always work out, of course, and they haven’t with Tannehill the past two seasons.
But even if he comes back healthy and continues the improvement he showed under Adam Gase in 2016, Miami management wants to get younger and better at the position to avoid the snafu it encountered last summer. That means quarterback is in play with the No. 11 pick in the draft, and the Dolphins are doing extensive evaluation on Josh Allen and Baker Mayfield at the Senior Bowl.
“You have to balance winning for today and developing for tomorrow, and last year obviously didn’t go the way we hoped,” vice president Mike Tannenbaum said this afternoon. “It gave us a chance to reflect on some things we could do better, and part of that is making sure 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.”
When Tannehill went down early in training camp, the Dolphins weren’t satisfied proceeding with Matt Moore as their No. 1 quarterback for the season and they had no up and comer developing behind him. That’s not a situation they want in the future.
Miami lured Jay Cutler out of retirement with a $10 million contract, as opposed to rolling that space over into next season’s salary cap, and it didn’t work out. Cutler completed 62 percent of his passes, threw 19 touchdowns against 14 interceptions, averaged a career-worst 190.4 yards per game and posting an 80.8 passer rating. He ranked in the bottom half of NFL starters in all categories.
The Dolphins also turned to 27-year-old journeyman David Fales, who has a chance to be the backup next season but wouldn’t seem to have the upside of a first- or second-rounder in this year’s draft.
Philosophically, Miami would want a quarterback that play behind Tannehill as a rookie and eventually develop into a starter or a trade asset if Tannehill cements himself as a franchise player.
“We’re always going to try to put the best team together where we have players, not only in starting roles but backup roles, that can go in and contribute right away,” Tannenbaum said. “There’s always a balancing act of trying to put a good team on the field, but knowing that you’re going to have quality backups behind them as well.”
The formula that conspired to turn the Dolphins from a 10-win playoff team to a 6-10 also-ran can be boiled down to two glaring problems: 1) the inability to get the starting backfield on the field and 2) the inability to get (and keep) their hands on the football.
Those are the cold facts that jump off the page in an analysis of coach Adam Gase’s first two Dolphins teams.
Believe it or not, even with Jay Cutler subbing for the injured Ryan Tannehill, the Dolphins could have success throwing — just not nearly as efficiently as required in this league.
Believe it or not, the defense did improve under new coordinator Matt Burke — just not enough to offset glaring slippages in certain areas, most notably in takeaways.
Mix those elements with a running attack that took a nosedive without last year’s MVP, Jay Ajayi, and it goes a long way toward explaining why the Dolphins are watching these playoffs on TV.
Breaking it down:
• The passing game: The Dolphins threw the ball about as far under Cutler as they did under Tannehill in 2016 (3,700 yards). So what’s the problem? Touchdown passes and completion percentage were down. Interceptions were up. Put them together and you have an awful passing efficiency rating of 78.7 for the team as opposed to 95.5 last year.
• The running game: Ajayi’s negative runs drove Gase nuts to the point that he shipped Ajayi to the Eagles. Result: A running attack that ranked ninth last year plunged to 29th, which happens when you forfeit 27 yards per game on the ground.
• The defense: Remember what we said about bottom falling out on the team passer rating? The exact opposite happened for opposing quarterbacks. Last year, their rating against Miami was 80.5. This year: 94.8, meaning what they gained was equal to what Miami’s quarterbacks let slip away.
• Turnovers matter — a lot: Some strange things happened with Burke’s defense. It jumped from 29th in total defense to 16th. It gave up 30 fewer rushing yards per game after getting gashed by runners last year. It allowed 17 fewer passing yards per game.
Only problem: points. The Dolphins went from 18th as a scoring defense to 29th. You’d have to try for all these elements to be true, right? Not if your team goes from a plus-two in giveaway-takeaway differential to a minus-14.
The defense recovered just six fumbles. It made just nine interceptions, compared to 21 picks thrown by Miami. That lack of interceptions by the defense — seven fewer than last year — was the greatest factor in opponents’ passer rating skyrocketing in 2017.
Add that up and you have a defense put in bad situations by the offense, and one that was clueless on how to get out of those bad situations.
• Penalties are killing the Dolphins: Since Adam Gase took over, the Dolphins have been penalized 262 times for 2,295 yards. If that sounds like a lot, consider that they committed more penalties in each of Gase’s two seasons than the Dolphins’ championship teams of 1972 and ’73 had combined.
• The red zone: The Dolphins have become predictable once they cross the opponents’ 20. They ran only 27 out of 101 plays in the red zone, compared to 55 rushes year. As a result, rushing TDs dropped from 14 to four.
• Slow starts: It sounds like an age-old problem because it is, but the Dolphins have to figure out a way to not play catch-up. Over the past two seasons, they have outscored opponents by 45 points in the second half and overtime. A lot of good that does when they’ve been outscored by 174 points in the first half.
Free agency’s had ups and downs for the Dolphins, and their most recent batch of deals didn’t work out particularly well in 2017.
Vice president Mike Tannenbaum didn’t want to get into specifics at the team’s season ending press conference, but it was clear he didn’t feel great about at least a couple of those acquisitions.
“We were 6-10; we’ve got to look at everything,” he said. “The decisions we made, did they live up to the value of what we paid? Why or why not? … As we sat here a year ago and talked about the guys we wanted to keep… we all felt that that was the right message to send to the locker room coming off of the season we did, how hard they worked, how much they were pushed by the coaches and how they responded.
“Building a long-term program, that was a key building block for us, to try to reward our own as much as possible and then move forward from there. With that said, not every decision maybe worked out perfectly, and we’re going to look at that, but we’re always going to try to lean towards taking care of our own before we look outward.”
Sometimes free agency is as much about players a team bypasses as the ones it signs, and the Dolphins let some problematic players leave last year. They also headed off some future contract concerns by extending Kiko Alonso and Reshad Jones early.
As far as players who were on the open market, here’s a look at how each deal went in Year 1:
WR Kenny Stills
Stills is one of the best bullet points on Tannenbaum’s time with the Dolphins. He got him cheap from New Orleans and re-signed him to a fair four-year, $32 million deal. Stills was second on the team with 58 catches, 847 yards and six touchdowns, and he goes into next season at 26. This one looks smart.
DE Andre Branch
Branch believed he found a home with the Dolphins, and a season of 5.5 sacks and 49 tackles got him a three-year, $24 million contract. He had a tough year due to injuries, but this one’s still a prudent deal for Miami. He had a $5 million cap hit this year and will count for $10 million next season. If he rebounds, the Dolphins have him for $9 million in 2019. If not, they can get out of it for $2 million.
LB Lawrence Timmons Bad, bad, bad. Miami thought Timmons was a solution to its linebacker problem and locked him up for two years, $12 million ($11 million guaranteed). He was OK. The season started terribly with him going AWOL before the opener, but now that actually looks good for the Dolphins because it enabled them to make the second year of his deal nonguaranteed. They’ll escape this mistake by good luck.
QB Jay Cutler The Cutler signing is unique because the Dolphins, and the rest of the league, passed on him when he was available in March. He went off to retirement and a broadcasting job and likely would’ve remained in that mode if not for a frantic phone call from Adam Gase when Ryan Tannehill went down for the year. This was a logical move at the time, but it didn’t prove profitable. The $10 million payment for what Cutler did this year wasn’t worth it.
G Ted Larsen The verdict on Larsen will wait another year because it seems highly unfair to judge his play in 2017 when he missed the first half of the year with a torn biceps and likely wasn’t ever back to full strength. He’s bounced around to four teams in his nine seasons, but the Dolphins saw him as a building block and secured him with a three-year, $5.7 million contract. They can get out of that for less than $1 million this offseason, but Larsen looks like he’s part of the 2018 plan.
S Nate Allen There weren’t huge expectations for Allen considering T.J. McDonald was penciled in to take over once his eight-game suspension ended, but Miami got just seven games, 20 tackles and one pass breakup from Allen for $3.4 million. That’s not a jarring number by any means, but it’s still one of the top 15 salary cap hits on the team.
G Jermon Bushrod It’d be interesting to hear Bushrod give an honest answer about whether he regrets delaying retirement to play for the Dolphins this season. The $3 million he earned might make him feel a little better about how things went. Even if he’d made it back from the foot injury that ultimately ended his season, it’s unlikely he would’ve supplanted Jesse Davis or Larsen in the starting lineup.
TE Julius Thomas* This one gets an asterisk because it technically wasn’t a free agent deal, but realistically that’s how the Dolphins got Thomas. They were going to cut Branden Albert, and the Jaguars were going to cut Thomas after two nondescript seasons, and the teams decided to work out a pair of trades to swap them. Thomas played for $5.6 million last season and turned in 41 catches, 388 yards and three touchdowns. Miami needs to spend a high draft pick on a tight end.
TE Anthony Fasano Picking up Fasano for $2.8 million as a contingency for Thomas proved wise. He’s a very good run blocker and would be worth bringing back if he’ll come cheaply. Fasano said at the end of the season he didn’t know whether he would continue playing.
LB Rey Maualuga This was fun until it wasn’t. Everybody laughed when Maualuga talked about trying to lose a bunch of weight to get himself back in shape and wanting to play offense, but the jokes became less funny as he tested the organization’s patience. He was cut the day before a game after an altercation at a nightclub. He came aboard for a little under $1 million.
S T.J. McDonald This was an excellent signing and an example of the Dolphins doing a good job mining the free agent class for undervalued talent. They got him on a one-year, $2.3 million deal, then after months of taking of stock of who he is as a player and a person, extended him through 2021. McDonald and Jones look like a good safety tandem for the next few seasons.
CB Alterraun Verner Verner had a cap hit of $695,000 and played well enough in training camp to put himself in contention with Byron Maxwell for a starting job going into the opener. Ultimately, Verner proved to be more of a special teams asset than anything else and played just 14.9 percent of the defensive snaps. It’d be surprising if he’s back next season.
The play: Kenyan Drake took the handoff from Jay Cutler and was met by safety Will Parks for what appeared to be no gain. Drake got by Parks, but he still had to deal with end Adam Gotsis and linebacker Brandon Marshall. Drake weaved his way through all that traffic, then outran the secondary for a 26-9 lead.
Quote: “It’s funny,” Drake said of the touchdown. “I really can’t remember because at the end of the day, I was just out there trying to make sure I didn’t mess up. I think I made a couple of people miss.”
The play: Matt Cassel dropped back to pass and was hammered by linebacker Kiko Alonso, with the force of the hit sending Cassel’s helmet and the ball flying. Not overly interested in the helmet, Reshad Jones instead scooped up the ball, but the play was over because it was an incomplete pass … or so everyone thought. At that point, Jones was about the only one on the field who thought the play might still be alive, so he took off toward the end zone. After much discussion and a replay review, Jones was credited with a 38-yard return of the fumble for a touchdown.
Quote: “The coaches are always preaching that when the ball hits the ground, pick it up, you never know,” Jones said. “I just kept playing through the play.”
Parkey makes name for himself: juggernaut
Situation: Fourth-and-5 from Chargers’ 36.
The play: The delayed 2017 season-opener ended with a moment worth waiting for. Cody Parkey, acquired off waivers from the Browns (another nice move, Browns) only 14 days prior, was called on with 1:10 remaining and the Dolphins trailing the Chargers 17-16. No problem. Parkey drilled a 54-yarder that became the longest winning field goal in team history when Los Angeles’ Younghoe Koo was wide right from 44 yards with nine seconds left.
Quote: “I won’t tell you who it is, but I got on the bus after the game and a staff member said to me, ‘What’s our kicker’s name again?’ ” said Darren Rizzi, the Dolphins’ special teams coordinator. “So I think everybody knows his name now.”
This was definitely The Good Jay
Situation: Third-and-7 on Patriots’ 13.
The play: Patriots defensive back Jordan Richards thought he had a sure sack when he came in around left end untouched on a blitz. He got an arm around Jay Cutler, but Cutler made himself small and slithered away with a 360-degree spin. Still, he wasn’t in the clear, because Adam Butler was shaking off guard Ted Larsen and about to come straight after Cutler, too. Cutler spotted Kenyan Drake gaining separation and hit Drake for a first down on the New England 5. Cutler made it count, finding Jarvis Landry for a 5-yard touchdown on the next play for a 13-7 lead.
Quote: “That looked like the youthful Jay Cutler, from the start of his career,” ESPN’s Sean McManus said.
One hand on ball is enough for Landry
The situation: First-and-10 on Miami 10.
The play: Jarvis Landry made a one-handed catch for a 12-yard gain against the Bucs’ T.J. Ward, who for whatever reason taunted Landry after driving him out of bounds. Ward was penalized 15 yards. Five plays later, Landry made it count by catching a 2-yard TD pass from Jay Cutler.
Quote: “We found ways to make plays downfield,” Landry said. “It’s what we can do.”
What went wrong for the Dolphins this season? What went right (if anything)? We assigned letter grades to each position group after every game. So with the season over, it’s time to issue final grades and see who flunked and who gets a gold star. We begin with the lightning rod of positions: quarterbacks.
When Ryan Tannehill went down and Adam Gase made a call to the bullpen (in this case, the broadcast booth), Dolphins fans prayed for a miracle with Jay Cutler.
But great quarterbacks aren’t stocking grocery shelves or walking the streets. They’re in NFL training camps. In other words, Kurt Warner was a once-in-a-lifetime story.
I gave Cutler a B for his Dolphins debut in a victory against the Chargers, but then followed by whacking him on the knuckles with three straight Ds. That set the tone for the season and — let’s be honest — sums up Cutler’s career. Good Jay or Bad Jay? At 12:59 p.m. on any given Sunday, that was the question.
If only he could have been the Good Jay was saw in the Monday night win over New England … then again, if he were that Jay more often, he wouldn’t have been available to the Dolphins to begin with, would he?
A month into the season, fans decided they’d seen enough, and rumblings of “We Want Moore!” were heard. At that point, Gase appeared perhaps loyal to a fault to Cutler, preferring to pin most of the struggles on anyone but Cutler.
Almost on cue, Cutler injured his ribs and Gase had to go with Moore, who likewise tended to have good days when the rest of the team also did, bad days when the world around him was collapsing. To be fair, you could have morphed Dan Marino, Joe Montana and Tom Brady into one and it wouldn’t have mattered for those nationally televised debacles.
It’s obvious Gase’s trust in Moore only goes so far, and a promising outing by third-stringer David Fales in the season finale calls into question who’ll back up Tannehill next season.
As for 2017, as soon as Cutler’s ribs allowed him to return, he was back starting, but a concussion kept the carousel spinning as the losses piled up. You’d think Cutler has been around long enough to know the importance of ball security, yet he threw three interceptions in the Dec. 17 loss in Buffalo.
Over the second half of the season, Cutler finished just two games with a passer rating above 80, also known as the Sage Rosenfels Line.
In short, a season to forget.
What it all means
Stats and league rankings: 602 attempts (fourth), 373 completions (tied for sixth), 62 percent completions (16th), 3,535 yards (18th), 6.3 yards per completion (28th), 24 TDs (15th), 21 interceptions (third most), 41 plays of 20 yards or more (23rd), 5 plays of 40 yards or more (tied for 25th), 33 sacks (11th fewest), 78.7 passer rating (28th).
Number of times QBs received an A: 1 (home vs. Patriots)
Number of times QBs received an F: 1 (at Buffalo)
Season GPA if all 16 grades are averaged out: 2.20 (C-plus)
Analysis: A 2.0 GPA is considered average, so to find out I graded them as performing above average is most distressing.
But they also did their fair share of overspending. Some of last spring’s free agent deals didn’t look so great once the season came around, and part of Miami’s road ahead will be mitigating those expenses as much as possible.
With the Dolphins pondering how to fix a 6-10 team over the next several months, here are their five worst values from this season:
5. LT Laremy Tunsil
This one wasn’t a killer by any means at a $2.8 salary cap hit, but nobody in Davie would claim that Laremy Tunsil lived up to expectations in his first year at left tackle. He was solid at left guard in 2016, and all sides agreed it’d be an easy transition for him back to the position he’s played all his life. Adam Gase and Tunsil said during the season his practice habits needed to improve, and the Dolphins want him to play with far more tenacity next year. He has two seasons left on a rookie deal that makes him a $3.4 million cap hit next year, and that’ll be a tremendous value if he plays up to his potential.
4. DE Andre Branch Andre Branch impressed the Dolphins with 5.5 sacks and 49 tackles last season, and they were sold enough to sign him to a three-year, $24 million contract in March. This season came with a $5 million cap number, which eases the pain of a tough year for him. To Branch’s credit, this has more to do with his health than anything else. He pushed through multiple injuries for at least half the season and finished with 4.5 sacks and 23 tackles while playing 53.6 percent of the defensive snaps. He’ll be back for a $10 million salary cap hit next season and there’s nothing crazy about that if he’s healthy. If not, the Dolphins can get out of Year 3 for a minimal penalty.
3. LB Lawrence Timmons Any amount of money for Lawrence Timmons seemed too high when the team was scrambling to locate him the night before its season opener. Desperate for linebacker help, the Dolphins gave him a two-year, $12 million deal last spring with nearly all of it guaranteed. The silver lining of his AWOL incident, though, is that it allowed them to make the second season of his contract nonguaranteed. After taking a $3.7 million cap hit for a guy who Pro Football Focus ranked the 68th-best linebacker in the NFL, Miami can move on from him this offseason.
2. TE Julius Thomas This is another certain one-and-done for the Dolphins. They gave up a seventh-round pick to Jacksonville for Julius Thomas and renegotiated his contract to make it a two-year deal they can escape after the first season. They’ll surely want to do so. Thomas had three catches or fewer in all but three games. For a $5.6 million cap hit this year, they got 41 catches, 388 yards and three touchdowns out of Thomas. While those totals are more than what Miami got out of its dreadful tight end corps the year before, it wasn’t the answer and they must draft a tight end high this year.
1. QB Jay Cutler It’s not crazy to pay $10 million for a starting quarterback, but that amount stings after watching what Jay Cutler did this season. One-year rentals Josh McCown ($6.5 million) and Ryan Fitzpatrick ($3 million), just for starters, looked at least as good as Smokin’ Jay. Buffalo’s Tyrod Taylor earned slightly less than him this year, and the Dolphins could have just rolled with Matt Moore at a $2.2 million cap hit. The reason Cutler’s contract matters so much is that the Dolphins are extremely tight on cap space and could’ve rolled over that $10 million for next season.
Sprinkled in among an otherwise listless year for the Dolphins, they got some exceptional individual performances.
Some of the great games came from the usual stars, but others were less expected. Here’s a look at the top 10 one-man shows from this season:
10. DE Cameron Wake vs. New York Jets
Wake was nasty in this one, and the Dolphins needed it. Jets quarterback Josh McCown was generally shredding them, but Wake came through with 2.5 sacks for his most productive game since suffering a ruptured Achilles tendon in 2015. Only 15 players in the league had a game of at least 2.5 this year. Wake sacked McCown on third down twice in the fourth quarter as Miami rallied from a late 14-point deficit to win 31-28.
9. WR Jarvis Landry vs. New England
There weren’t many “monster” games from Jarvis Landry this season; his value was more about reliability and consistency. His 46 yards on eight catches against the Patriots doesn’t jump off the box score—it’s not even in his top 10 of the season yardage-wise—but he had two critical touchdowns in the biggest win of the year. Right after the Patriots pulled within 7-6 early in the game, Landry scored on a 5-yarder from Jay Cutler. With New England still threatening in the third quarter, he struck again from 4 yards. Considering how badly Miami needed a red zone threat, those were incredibly important plays.
8. S Reshad Jones vs. Tennessee
This might be the game that got him in the Pro Bowl, and Miami probably wouldn’t have won without him. On a day when the offense was dreadful, Jones came up with a defensive touchdown when he was the only one with the wherewithal to realize there was a live ball bouncing on the field. Kiko Alonso popped it loose from Matt Cassel, and the Titans stood idly as Jones ran it back 38 yards for the score in a game the Dolphins went on to win 16-10. He also teamed up with Cameron Wake on a sack and had seven tackles.
7. WR Kenny Stills vs. Tampa Bay
There’s an undercurrent of disappointment in some of these great performances because they ultimately weren’t enough for the Dolphins to win. Much like Cutler’s big night against the Raiders, Kenny Stills’ seven catches for a career-best 180 yards in the loss to Tampa Bay are fairly forgettable. That’s not his fault, though. He was productive no matter who was playing quarterback and beat two defenders to catch a 61-yard touchdown pass from Matt Moore that tied the game with three minutes left.
6. QB Jay Cutler at Atlanta Falcons
Smokin’ Jay and the Dolphins looked dead against Atlanta, which led 17-0 at the halftime and had limited them to 140 total yards in the first half. But Jay Cutler came alive in the third quarter and led Miami on four straight scoring drives. It was the first time since 1994 that the Dolphins pulled off that kind of comeback on the road. In the second half, Cutler went 11 of 19 for 87 yards with two touchdowns and no turnovers for a 104.5 passer rating.
5. RB Kenyan Drake vs. New England
Funny how so many Dolphins had great games on that Monday night clash with the Patriots. The only way Miami would’ve had a chance in that one was if they got such big contributions. Just a few games into being not just the featured back, but essentially the Dolphins’ only running back left standing, he ran for 114 yards on 25 carries to help them put away New England. He also chipped in a career-high 79 receiving yards on five catches. That kind of performance was exactly what Adam Gase had in mind when he put Drake in a starring role.
4. K Cody Parkey at Los Angeles Chargers
The Jupiter Juggernaut had been on the roster two weeks, and few of his teammates knew his name (or nickname, for that matter) until he single-footedly won the season opener for them. In his Miami debut, Parkey hit from 30 and 28 early in the game, then made a 35-yarder in the fourth quarter to pull the team within one. Trailing 17-16, he came through again with a 54-yard game-winner with 1:05 remaining.
3. QB Jay Cutler vs. Oakland
What a waste. The Dolphins got only a handful of really good games from Jay Cutler this season and did nothing with his gem against the Raiders. He completed his first 16 passes and finished 34 of 42 for 311 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions and no fumbles. His 81 percent completions marked a career high, and the 121.3 passer rating was his best with Miami. That probably goes down as one of the top 10 games of his career.
2. QB Matt Moore vs. New York Jets
The Dolphins were teetering at that point in the season after some ugly offensive showings in September followed by a resurgent victory at defending NFC champion Atlanta. They were on their way to another embarrassing loss to the Jets when Matt Moore took over for Jay Cutler, who broke two ribs. Moore came in and rallied Miami from down 28-14 early in the fourth quarter to set up a game-winning field goal by Cody Parkey with 22 seconds left. Overall, he completed 13 of 21 passes for 188 yards and two touchdowns against one interception. Six of Miami’s eight longest plays that afternoon came on throws by Moore.
1. CB Xavien Howard vs. New England
Who’s had a better day at work than this guy? Xavien Howard picked a Monday Night Football game against the Patriots to play the best game of his life, and he did it despite spending all day vomiting from the flu. He intercepted Tom Brady twice, including on a deep ball at the start of the second half in which he inexplicably made up several yards in a split-second to pluck the ball out of the air in stride. Brady threw eight picks all year, and Howard had two of them in one night. He also completely shut down Brandin Cooks, who had a 1,000-yard season but managed just one catch on seven targets in that game.
DAVIE—However regrettable it might seem to anyone on the outside that the Dolphins paid $10 million for what Jay Cutler did last season, coach Adam Gase still believes it was the right move.
Gase, who handpicked Cutler instead of incumbent backup Matt Moore as his top choice to replace injured starter Ryan Tannehill, chose him because of his familiarity from their time together in Chicago in 2015. How much did that actually pay off? Cutler was in the bottom third of the league in all major passing categories.
Gase was frustrated at some points in the season, but defended the move overall.
“He was somebody who had been in this system before,” Gase said. “We thought that we could get our guys moving in the same direction pretty quickly. It didn’t happen as fast as I was hoping. There’s a lot of good that he personally did. There was probably some games where we wish we could have done some different things.
“When you look back at it, it’s not like there were a ton of options to find a starting quarterback. We felt like Matt was a good option for us, but we felt like having two guys that we knew that could play in a regular season game was our best chance.”
Few proven quarterbacks were available at the time besides Cutler and Colin Kapernick. Kaepernick would’ve been a tougher fit given how close Miami was to starting the season, though he was under consideration. Cutler was a logical choice at the time, but it didn’t work out.
Cutler, who was 34 and retired when Tannehill suffered a season-ending knee injury in training camp, was up and down all year on his way to completing 62 percent of his passes, throwing 19 touchdowns with 14 interceptions, averaging a career-low 190.4 yards per game and posting an 80.8 passer rating.
The most gut-wrenching turn of the Cutler Coaster was his brilliant performance to beat the Patriots on Monday Night Football, followed by a four-fumble, three-interception disaster at Buffalo with the Dolphins’ playoff hopes on the line.
Moore was already under contract for $2.2 million this season and had played well in Tannehill’s absence the year before. Over the final month of last season, he completed 63.2 percent of his passes, averaged 180.3 yards per game and had eight touchdowns against three interceptions. He also went 29 of 36 for 289 yards, a touchdown and an interception in the playoff loss at Pittsburgh.
Moore seemed to fall out of favor with Gase late this season, and Miami’s future quarterback plans appear to be more likely to include David Fales than Moore.
The Dolphins came into this season full of hope after breaking through for a playoff berth the year before, bringing back most of their core players and seeing Ryan Tannehill fully healthy on the practice field.
That optimism began deteriorating shortly once training camp began. Tannehill went down, the Dolphins suffered back-to-back embarrassing defeats and stumbled to 6-10 while watching the Bills celebrate a playoff berth at Hard Rock Stadium.
It was a thudding disappointment after there was so much promise the year before. Here are the five biggest letdowns of the season:
Jay Cutler was not the hero Miami needed. All things considered, getting Jay Cutler on short notice to replace Tannehill with about a month until the season began was a logical move by Miami. The idea that he’d come in and play close to Tannehill’s level proved far-fetched. There were some bright spots like the games against Oakland, Atlanta and New England, but mostly Cutler was a dud. There were fumbles, interceptions, inaccurate throws and even a few laughs—not the good kind, though.
DeVante Parker’s enormous, monster, breakout season remains on hold. The message from the Dolphins regarding DeVante Parker seems to be this: Just keep waiting a little longer. Coach Adam Gase and former offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen, as well as some players, have still expressed optimism that he will develop into a legitimate No. 1 receiver. It looked like he was headed that way this year with a great offseason and a good first few games, but ultimately he could not push through his injuries and he finished behind Jarvis Landry and Kenny Stills in every category.
Byron Maxwell, Matt Burke couldn’t work it out. This is an easy one to forget because it happened back in October, but Byron Maxwell’s departure was a joint failure. He was a good player on a good contract, and both sides should have made it work out. The Dolphins would’ve been better off late in the season with Maxwell still in the fold. He refused to play the way they wanted him to play, and they weren’t willing to bend enough to find a role for him.
The Bills and Jets didn’t tank quite as hard as expected. While everyone wondered whether the Dolphins had the pieces to at least make a run at the Patriots in the AFC East, it was a foregone conclusion that they’d be better than the Bills and Jets. Not so. New York pummeled the Dolphins 20-6 for their first reality check of the season and had a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter at Hard Rock Stadium in October, and Buffalo swept them. Both of those teams were thought to be angling for the No. 1 pick in the draft, but the Bills finished three games ahead of Miami, and the Dolphins were in danger of slipping into last place behind the Jets going into the final week of the season. This might’ve looked like four easy wins going into the season, but it wasn’t anything close to that.
Adam Gase was fresh out of all that coaching magic. Last year, Adam Gase was amazing. He took over a team with all kinds of holes and a brutal schedule, then steered it out of a 1-4 start to make the franchise’s first playoff appearance since 2008 despite a rash of injuries. He closed out the year with his backup quarterback winning games. That made Gase a Coach of the Year candidate in 2016, but he couldn’t pull it off this season. The offensive guru’s offense was a wreck most of the year, he couldn’t will Cutler back into being a Pro Bowl-caliber quarterback and his team absolutely bombed in must-win games at Buffalo and Kansas City late in the year. Gase was just OK, taking a 6-10 roster and going 6-10 with it.
The Dolphins have a starting quarterback for 2018, and Jay Cutler doesn’t want to be a backup just to prolong his career. With Ryan Tannehill on track for a healthy return, Cutler’s time with Miami is done.
“You could’ve asked me Week 1 if he ever wanted to be a backup quarterback,” coach Adam Gase said, bristling about the media asking Cutler that question last month. “I was shocked that you guys didn’t have any clue about that. It’s pretty obvious where he stands right now.”
Barring injury, it appears the Dolphins’ quarterback room will look much different next season than it did in 2017. Instead of Cutler as the starter and Matt Moore as the No. 2, the team seems intent on going with Tannehill, David Fales and possibly a rookie.
Cutler’s one-and-done season in Miami wasn’t great.
He came out of retirement at age 34, leaving a broadcasting job with Fox, to fill in for Tannehill after he suffered a season-ending knee injury in training camp. Cutler was coming off labrum surgery and hadn’t played a full season since 2015.
He looked good in the season-opening win over the Chargers, but spiraled after that and was up and down the rest of the year.
Cutler was fantastic in big wins over Atlanta and New England, plus he had one of the best games of his career in a loss to the Raiders. He also had some disaster performances in losses to New Orleans, Buffalo and Tampa Bay.
In total, for $10 million, the Dolphins got a quarterback who completed 62 percent of his passes, threw for 2,666 yards, had 19 touchdowns, 14 interceptions and a passer rating of 80.8. All of those marks were in the bottom half of the league, with the picks being the fourth-highest total and his passer rating ranking 10th-worst.