clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Dolphins may have to sideline Ryan Tannehill. If they do, then what?

Colin Kaepernick or Jay Cutler would improve the Dolphins, but the team probably isn’t set up to do much.

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

NFL: Miami Dolphins-Training Camp Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Dolphins are facing a tough decision with quarterback Ryan Tannehill after he suffered a knee injury at training camp Thursday.

While an initial MRI didn’t show structural damage or any kind of conclusive diagnosis for his knee, it could end up being a season-ending injury:

According to Jeff Darlington of ESPN, team officials are aware that the best decision for Tannehill’s long-term health may be a knee surgery to repair the damage he suffered in 2016.

Matt Moore stepped in for the final games of the 2016 season when Tannehill suffered a partially torn ACL that he opted not to have surgery to repair. The longtime Dolphins backup performed well in Tannehill’s absence, finishing the year with eight touchdowns, three interceptions, and a 105.6 passer rating.

He had a little help, too. There was a matchup against the New York Jets, a team that was a sinking ship at the time, and a 200-yard rushing performance from Jay Ajayi against the Buffalo Bills. But ultimately, Moore played just fine.

The Dolphins finished 10-6 and made the playoffs. Moore completed 26 of 39 passes in a postseason game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, but the only touchdown of the game for Miami came in the final minutes of the fourth quarter. The Dolphins lost the game 30-12 and were unceremoniously bounced from the playoffs.

On Friday, Dolphins coach Adam Gase said, “ Right now, Matt is our quarterback. We’ll see where we go from there.”

Miami can function with Moore as the starter for the 2017 season, but make no mistake, the team is much worse off if it’s without Tannehill.

The problem is that there’s really no solution that will make the Dolphins a contender.

Possible free agent signings

Colin Kaepernick

The million dollar question for every team that has needed a quarterback this offseason has been whether the owner would sign off on the acquisition of Kaepernick. Just a few days ago, the Baltimore Ravens considered signing the former 49ers quarterback, but owner Steve Bisciotti reportedly pushed back against the idea.

It was a bumbling and clumsy mishandling of the situation, and the Dolphins would be wise to have a more coherent idea of what they’ll do.

Kaepernick is the best quarterback on the market, and there’s really no close second. With a worse cast in San Francisco than he’d have in Miami, Kaepernick threw 16 touchdowns with only four interceptions.

Adam Gase has already created a game plan with Kaepernick at quarterback when he interviewed for the 49ers job in 2015.

Winning over Stephen Ross is realistic too, considering the Dolphins owner’s comments of support for protesting players during the 2016 season.

But Miami may be a tough fan base to sell on Kaepernick after he was confronted in November by a Miami Herald reporter for wearing a Fidel Castro shirt.

Either way, signing Kaepernick is the best possible solution for the Dolphins on the field.

Jay Cutler

Yes, he’s retired. But Cutler’s connection with Gase is the reason this possibility is being discussed anyway.

So much so that Cutler is reportedly considering the possibility of playing for the Dolphins as long as he gets starter money and is assured the starting job with the team, according to Darlington.

The team is interested too and reached out to Cutler immediately after Tannehill’s injury Thursday, according to the Miami Herald.

Cutler, 34, had one season with Gase in Chicago when the coach was offensive coordinator of the Bears in 2015. It was also the only season of Cutler’s career with a passer rating over 90. The two have a strong enough relationship that Gase even attended Cutler’s retirement party in June.

But Cutler didn’t sound too keen on the idea of jumping into a new situation when asked about it by ESPN’s Adam Schefter earlier in the offseason.

“To say 'Hey, we're going to sign you on Monday, we need you to play on Sunday' as a quarterback, that's so challenging,” Cutler said. “I think Tony [Romo]'s situation with possibly leaving the door open in Dallas, if that's what he's doing, is a little bit more realistic because he knows the system, he knows the guy, he knows expectations, he's comfortable in the building.

“To go someplace completely foreign and try and learn a whole new system and develop timing with guys, especially on a team in a playoff race, that's a tall order."

Cutler would have more than a month before the regular season begins, but would he leave his broadcasting job at FOX to jump back in the fire? And would the Dolphins be better off if he did? There’s reason to doubt both, but the mutual interest suggests this is very possible.

For now, ESPN says Cutler is leaning toward staying in the broadcast booth.

Robert Griffin III

The “oh yeah, he’s available too” free agent of the offseason is Griffin, who is still only five years removed from a Pro Bowl and Offensive Rookie of the Year performance in 2012.

Unfortunately, his potential as a quarterback hasn’t been realized, mostly due to injuries. In his first game with the Cleveland Browns, Griffin essentially ran face-first into a defender and missed the majority of the regular season as a result.

In his five games a starter, he wasn’t great either. Griffin finished with just two touchdowns and three interceptions, struggling to get anything going for a Browns offense that was pretty bad, regardless.

While there’s upside with signing such an athletic player, there isn’t much evidence to suggest that the Dolphins would be actually getting an upgrade with Griffin. There is evidence that the Dolphins could be signing a player who would immediately get hurt and toss Miami into the same exact situation.

The Dolphins could be screwed, regardless

The Minnesota Vikings and Dallas Cowboys both had to contend with serious injuries to their starters during the 2016 season.

The Cowboys struck gold with Dak Prescott, who wasn’t asked to do too much behind an elite offensive line with a powerful rushing attack. The Vikings traded for Sam Bradford, but they couldn’t run the ball and struggled to protect their new quarterback.

Miami’s situation would be much more like Minnesota’s if Tannehill is done for the year.

While the Dolphins went 10-6 last year, not many were buying their chances at contending in 2017 even before Tannehill’s injury. As of Thursday morning, only nine teams had lesser odds on Bovada at winning the Super Bowl.

The team finished No. 24 in total offense and No. 29 in total defense in 2016 and spent most of its efforts in the offseason addressing the latter.

The first three draft picks for the Dolphins were all on the defensive side of the ball. The most significant improvement on offense was the addition of tight end Julius Thomas, who was mostly ineffective with the Jaguars.

When the Dolphins did find offensive momentum in 2016, it was on the back of Jay Ajayi, who had three games with more than 200 rushing yards, but a mostly average season otherwise.

Miami’s offensive line was ranked in the bottom half of the NFL in both pass and run blocking by Football Outsiders and was No. 26 in Pro Football Focus’ ranking of offensive lines for the 2017 season.

Realistically, it’s a team that isn’t close to ready to challenge the New England Patriots for the AFC East title. And that means adding a player like Kaepernick, Cutler, or Griffin could be an attempt to better position the team for wins in 2017 but probably won’t be able to save the season if Tannehill is sidelined.