Tan­nehill play­ing for his fu­ture with Fins

Miami Herald (Sunday) - - Sports - BY AR­MANDO SALGUERO [email protected]­ami­her­ald.com

Mere days be­fore he re­turns to the field af­ter miss­ing the previous five games, Ryan Tan­nehill is dis­cussing his mo­ti­va­tion and what he’s play­ing for the fi­nal six games this 2018 sea­son,

“I’m play­ing for the guys around me,” the Dol­phins start­ing quar­ter­back says. “I see how much work these guys put in. I be­lieve in these guys, I be­lieve we have a lot of foot­ball in front of us and we can go win a lot of foot­ball games.

“I’m go­ing to give it ev­ery­thing I have with these guys and hope­fully come out with wins.”

That’s a good an­swer. There’s fel­low­ship and dig­nity in that an­swer.

But that an­swer is in­com­plete. Be­cause as much as Tan­nehill is play­ing for his team­mates and to get the Dol­phins vic­to­ries, he’s also very much play­ing for him­self.

In that re­gard, Ryan Tan­nehill needs to play for Ryan Tan­nehill now.

Be­cause his Dol­phins fu­ture is at stake.

These fi­nal six games are go­ing to be the fi­nal chance Tan­nehill has to con­vince Dol­phins own­er­ship, the coach­ing staff and the per­son­nel depart­ment that he be­longs on the team next sea­son.

And that’s dif­fer­ent. It has never been like this for Tan­nehill be­fore.

Since the mo­ment he was se­lected in the first round of the 2012 draft, Tan­nehill’s sta­tus with the Dol­phins has been se­cure. It has been safe. Un­ques­tioned.

Even when for­mer coach Joe Philbin and some of his as­sis­tants had doubts about Tan­nehill and shared those in­ter­nally with oth­ers in­side the or­ga­ni­za­tion, Tan-

ne­hill was safe be­cause peo­ple like Den­nis Hickey and Mike Tan­nen­baum and sev­eral oth­ers still be­lieved in the quar­ter­back and gave the quar­ter­back a new con­tract to se­cure his fu­ture.

But now that fu­ture comes with se­ri­ous and le­git­i­mate ques­tions:

Can Tan­nehill stay healthy?

Can he raise his per­for­mance to heights that match his bal­loon­ing salary?

Can he lead a team to the play­offs for the first time?

Those ques­tions buf­fet the Dol­phins or­ga­ni­za­tion like threat­en­ing winds of change. Be­cause Tan­nehill is go­ing to be 31 years old next year, and he has failed to an­swer any of those ques­tions sat­is­fac­to­rily so far in his ca­reer.

Tan­nehill has never been to the play­offs. He has not been healthy of late. And he has not been a top-tier quar­ter­back at any point in his ca­reer.

And there’s a loom­ing marker that begs for an­swers to those ques­tions to guar­an­tee Tan­nehill can re­main in Mi­ami past this sea­son: He’s due to cost the Dol­phins $26.6 mil­lion of salary cap space in 2019, which is what elite quar­ter­backs typ­i­cally cost their teams.

So un­less Tan­nehill shows in these fi­nal six games his pro­duc­tion as well as salary is in the same neigh­bor­hood as elite quar­ter­backs, then the case for keep­ing him as the Dol­phins’ starter next year col­lapses.

That’s not me say­ing that. Mul­ti­ple peo­ple within the Dol­phins or­ga­ni­za­tion ac­knowl­edge this now.

And here’s the thing: Tan­nehill no longer gets the ben­e­fit of the doubt in these fi­nal six games.

He has en­joyed that ben­e­fit the past six years and into this, his sev­enth NFL sea­son. Tan­nehill, in fact, has been the ben­e­fi­ciary of more ra­tio­nal­iz­ing than any Dol­phins quar­ter­back in team his­tory.

Early on, he was ob­vi­ously a young player who had played wide re­ceiver in col­lege. So he de­served time to de­velop.

Then it was he was play­ing for of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Mike Sher­man, who was run­ning the same col­lege of­fense he ran with Tan­nehill at Texas A&M. (This was con­sid­ered an as­set ini­tially and then the court of pub­lic opin­ion turned it into a li­a­bil­ity, and Philbin was forced to fire Sher­man against his will.)

Then it was the of­fen­sive line was bad.

And then it was the re­ceivers were bad.

And when the re­ceivers were brought in, it was Mike Wal­lace didn’t prac­tice hard enough to al­low Tan­nehill to get synched up with him on deep passes.

Then it was Philbin wanted Derek Carr.

Then it was Bill La­zor gave Tan­nehill no say and not much re­spect.

Then it was …

Well, the rea­sons for Tan­nehill not play­ing like a cham­pi­onship quar­ter­back have run out.

On Sun­day in In­di­anapo­lis, he will be run­ning an of­fense he has been fa­mil­iar with for three sea­sons. He will be work­ing for a coach and play-caller in Adam Gase who has been stub­bornly sup­port­ive of all things Tan­nehill.

So Tan­nehill has to pro­duce at a high level start­ing in this game. And then he has to re­peat that three or four more times be­fore the sea­son ends.

Be­cause if he doesn’t, what’s the case for keep­ing Tan­nehill in 2019?

(Other than, “We can’t fig­ure out a way to find some­body else?”)

And here’s the in­ter­est­ing thing: Ex­cuses that worked in the past no longer fly.

Tan­nehill can­not be ex­cused for be­ing less than 100 per­cent be­cause his right shoul­der’s cap­sule is ad­mit­tedly still on the mend. That ra­tio­nale for a poor per­for­mance would ac­tu­ally be a rea­son to jet­ti­son Tan­nehill be­cause an on­go­ing in­jury con­cern would so­lid­ify the idea he’s in­jury prone and not heal­ing as quickly as he used to.

And teams that pay in­jury-prone quar­ter­backs — Tan­nehill has missed 25 of a pos­si­ble 43 starts un­der Gase — are beg­ging for more in­juries in the fu­ture.

So a re-in­jury, or an­other in­jury would ac­tu­ally seal Tan­nehill’s fate with Mi­ami in­stead of ex­tend ques­tions whether he could be brought back.

Tan­nehill’s mar­gin for er­ror the fi­nal six games this sea­son is ac­tu­ally small. If he plays very well, then great! The Dol­phins have their elite quar­ter­back for 2019.

But that means play­ing bet­ter than he has in the past.

If he plays as he has pre­vi­ously when healthy, is that worth $26.6 mil­lion?

Can an or­ga­ni­za­tion pin hopes on po­ten­tial im­prove­ment in 2019 — for an eighth con­sec­u­tive sea­son?

That makes no log­i­cal sense.

Tan­nehill’s days with the fran­chise are the stakes here. Sure, he’s play­ing for his team­mates. And for wins.

But as much as any­thing, Ryan Tan­nehill is go­ing to be play­ing for Ryan Tan­nehill.

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