The preseason finale, more than any other of these exhibition chores, is a game of make-believe. Thursday night’s game between the Dolphins and Saints will be decided — and almost exclusively played — by backups.
So in that vein, let’s play a little “What if?” As in, “What if Matt Moore, instead of re-signing with the Dolphins in March, had simply done nothing?”
There’s a strong chance he would be starting for the Buffalo Bills in their regular-season opener. And no doubt the New York Jets would love to have him, too.
“Yeah, but I’m here,” Moore said with a shrug of his shoulders Tuesday upon the mention of that alternate reality. “I can’t get into it.
“I don’t really think about it, to be honest with you. I saw that news about Buffalo, [where EJ Manuel and Kevin Kolb are out with injuries]. That’s not my problem. I’m happy where I’m at, happy to be here.”
Moore was set to become a free agent in March, and would have been one of the hotter names in an otherwise forgettable class of quarterbacks. Instead, Moore re-signed with the Dolphins the week before hitting the open market to be Ryan Tannehill’s backup.
The Dolphins made it worth his while, agreeing to pay him $8 million for two years of work, including a guaranteed sum of $4 million.
And although he said there was “a lot of speculation” that another team would give him sizable money and a shot at a starting job, that never materialized. Moore told reporters Tuesday that no team approached him with such a scenario.
So re-signing with Miami — knowing full well that he would be strictly a backup unless something happened to Tannehill — was a “very easy” decision.
“You guys [reporters] will probably laugh; there’s not much to it,” Moore said. “This is where I wanted to be. I appreciate this organization and how they’ve been to me.”
Of course, there was another, riskier route that Moore could have gone.
He could have waited out the meat-grinder that is the preseason, knowing that some team would lose its starting quarterback to injury.
It has happened for Buffalo, and possibly New York, too, where Mark Sanchez is sidelined with a shoulder injury and David Garrard has retired because of chronic knee issues.
As for the perpetually unlucky Bills, they were forced to sign Matt Leinart off the street and probably will start Jeff Tuel — an undrafted rookie — in Week1.
Don’t think Moore, who has won seven games for the Dolphins the past two seasons, would be a more attractive option than either of those players?
“It was a quick thought,” Moore said of playing the waiting game, “but I’m not a very patient person.
“I just wanted to get something done, something I was happy with, something they were happy with. We came to that, and here we are.”
Moore, 29, is expected to take the bulk of snaps at quarterback — if not start altogether — against New Orleans on Thursday, as the Dolphins put a bow on the longest preseason in pro football. (They had a fifth exhibition game, because they agreed to play in the Hall of Fame Game.)
Dolphins coach Joe Philbin wouldn’t say how much his first string will play Thursday night, but given his history, little or not at all is a good guess.
Last year, Tannehill — then a rookie still needing reps — started behind a backup offensive line, throwing to reserve skill-position players. He was out of the game by the end of the first quarter.
Tannehill won the starting job last year, in part, because Moore struggled in the preseason, completing just 39.2 percent of his passes and throwing no touchdowns. Moore has been better this year, but his quarterback rating of 64.3 is still an eyesore.
But the Dolphins didn’t re-sign Moore for the preseason. They brought him back, in large part, for what he did against the Jets last October.
When Tannehill went down with a knee injury, Moore was asked not just to finish the game, but also to win it. He did both, completing 11 of 19 passes for 131 yards and a touchdown.
“I’m very happy that he is on the ball club, there’s no question about it,” Philbin said. “I’m looking forward to working with him this year, and I’m glad he’s on the Miami Dolphins, absolutely.”
Another quarterback, Pat Devlin, could be playing for his job Thursday. Philbin was noncommittal about keeping a third quarterback on the active roster, saying that there must be a “compelling reason” to do so.
Devlin is eligible for the practice squad, should the Dolphins choose to go that route.
But on a conference call with select Dolphins fans, Philbin struck an optimistic tone about his young pass-rusher.
“We’re excited about Dion,” Philbin said. “He has a lot of talent, a lot of skill. We’re going to integrate him into the defense.
“We need to get him more repetitions. You’re going to see a lot of him in the next coming weeks.”
Philbin declined to name starters at running back and right guard, as well as who would be the nickel corner.
However, speaking in generalities, Philbin said he’s optimistic about the depth and chemistry of his group. He listed Olivier Vernon, Michael Egnew and Lamar Miller as the players who have improved the most in the past year.
“There’s no question — on paper, I feel a lot better about our football team,” Philbin said.