There are two messages coming from the same football team about quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
On one hand, one message echoing within the coaching staff is that Ryan Tannehill cannot carry this team and must be managed so that he can manage the offense and ultimately the game. That message suggests the coaching staff views the quarterback as a game manager — the description of a quarterback who is not elite and is merely asked to do no harm rather than go out and win games for his team.
That message is no secret, by the way, because interim coach Dan Campbell has made it clear with his words and offensive coordinator Bill Lazor has made it apparent by his deeds that is what they expect from Tannehill.
“What I’ve told Ryan is, ‘I don’t need Superman.’ … I just want to make sure my message to him is don’t try to be someone you’re not,” Campbell told me weeks ago. “Just manage the game for us. Make the throws that are there, which he will.”
Lazor, meanwhile, has limited the audibles Tannehill can call at the line of scrimmage. The Miami quarterback can change the play at the line if he deems it necessary, but he can only change to choices already served up to him by Lazor before the offense breaks the huddle.
So whereas some savvy NFL quarterbacks can read the defense in front of them and then change the play to anything in the playbook, the Dolphins offer Tannehill the chance to change it to Option A or Option B as provided by Lazor when the play to be run is called.
The reason this happens, apparently, is because coaches want Tannehill playing fast. They don’t want to bog him down at the line. They don’t want him thinking too much about things they don’t want him thinking about.
And, again, this is not guesswork because Campbell has said all of this.
So the picture one gets of what the coaches think of Tannehill is of a game manager they don’t want to overburden for fear of limiting his success.
Except that the Dolphins’ personnel department thinks Tannehill is among the top eight to 15 quarterbacks in the NFL.
And this is why that department thinks that:
The team gave Tannehill a five-year, $96 million contract with four new years and $77 million in new money this offseason. Tannehill got $21.5 million fully guaranteed upon signing and nearly $45 million in total guarantees.
So Tannehill’s annual salary averages $19.25 million and he’s signed through 2020.
And, in case you are wondering, Tannehill is likely to be the Dolphins’ quarterback next season and the season after and through 2020 based on what personnel people say and think of him internally.
Yes, there might come a time when the Dolphins select a quarterback to compete with Tannehill if one is too irresistible to draft. But short of that, Tannehill is and will remain Miami’s starter, sources within the organization insist.
Because doing an exercise the team does internally, Tannehill rates very high among quarterbacks the organization would pick compared with other NFL starters.
That exercise measures whether the Dolphins would pick Tannehill or another starting quarterback if it was starting a team today. So pick the team and decide whether that team’s quarterback would be Miami’s long-term choice over Tannehill.
New York Jets? No.
New Orleans? No.
San Diego? No.
St. Louis? No.
The New York Giants? No.
Pittsburgh, Oakland and Carolina are probably nots.
The Dolphins would pick Tannehill for the long-term over Eli Manning, Drew Brees, Tony Romo, Phillip Rivers, Carson Palmer, Cam Newton, Teddy Brigdewater and Blake Bortles.
I know this because I was walked through the exercise by the team Friday. And when I balked at names such as Bortles and Newton, the Dolphins pushed back strongly, giving reasons Tannehill would be their preference long term.
(By the way, no offense to Tannehill, but I’d take Matt Stafford, Derek Carr and Ben Roethlisberger over him as well.)
The point is the Miami front office is convinced — convinced — Ryan Tannehill has franchise-quarterback skills and checks boxes other franchise quarterbacks check. The front office believes Tannehill is possibly even a top-10 quarterback.
And this is where something will eventually give.
The fact is Tannehill so far this season has played more like the quarterback the coaching staff thinks he is than the front office thinks he is.
“We’re not putting up enough points,” Tannehill said when asked how he is playing.
Whether this continues the rest of the season could help determine the decision the Dolphins make within their coaching ranks because club executive vice president Mike Tannenbaum, who heads the front office, is not going anywhere. And Tannehill isn’t going anywhere.
The coaching staff, meanwhile, is in a state of uncertainty.
And that coaching staff provides the offense in which Tannehill must succeed, although listening to him talk about it, it’s as if he’s merely tolerating the system now.
“Right now we are just trying to do the best we can with the offense that we run,” he said. “I go out there and try to execute it the best way that I can.”