Matt Moore, ever charming, joked Tuesday that he’s the Dolphins’ relief pitcher.
Whenever they need him at quarterback, Moore quipped, he’ll come in and play.
The analogy fits. In the NFL, Moore has been the ultimate setup man.
• Go 4-1 as a starter for Carolina in 2009 with a quarterback rating of 98.5? Great, but we’re drafting Jimmy Clausen, the Panthers said.
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• Earn team MVP honors with Miami in 2011, winning six of the season’s final nine games? Thanks a lot, the Dolphins responded, but our future is Ryan Tannehill.
“I’m never the guy until I absolutely have to be,” Moore said Tuesday. “I’ve had plenty of opportunities to play, and I’ve done pretty well in those opportunities.
“It’s been interesting how it’s all shaken out.”
Thanks to circumstance and perseverance, here’s how it has shaken out through nearly three weeks of camp: Moore, 28 and in the final year of his contract, stands atop the Dolphins’ depth chart at quarterback.
But, fittingly for a guy who has been an afterthought much of his career, he might not even be the team’s starter Friday against the Carolina Panthers in the team’s second exhibition game.
Coach Joe Philbin has yet to announce who will play first against Moore’s old team, the Panthers. But Philbin’s rotation in practice Tuesday might have tipped his hand: Tannehill worked solely with the first-team offense, and Moore got snaps with the starters and backups.
Plus, Tannehill needs to play with the first team at least once in an exhibition game before the coaching staff can settle on who starts the season opener Sept. 9, a decision that could come as early as next week.
The margin between the quarterbacks — one a sixth-year veteran, the other right out of college — is slim, Philbin acknowledged recently. In situations like this, the tie could go to the rookie.
Either way, Moore knows this: If he has a future as a starting quarterback, it won’t be in Miami. Moore conceded Tuesday that he’s using whatever action he sees this year as an audition for his next team.
“Maybe it’s something that organizations don’t see in me,” Moore said with typical candor, “but I still have just enough to stay around. But as a player, you want to be a starter, whether it’s here or not.”
During the past decade, Moore has shown flashes that he can be that guy.
He led his prep team, William S. Hart High School in Newhill, Calif., to a perfect record and a state title his senior year.
A versatile athlete, Moore had a chance to play pro baseball — the Los Angeles Angels took him in the 22nd round — but chose football instead. He played as a freshman at UCLA, but ultimately transferred to Oregon State, starting all 14 games as a senior.
In the spring of 2007, Moore was eligible for the NFL Draft, but was not among the 10 quarterbacks picked. (An aside: There were two quarterbacks taken in the first round that year — busts JaMarcus Russell and Brady Quinn.)
Undaunted, Moore signed with Dallas as a rookie free agent, and although he performed well in the preseason, didn’t survive final cuts. The Panthers, however, liked what they saw and signed him. He started 13 games for Carolina during the next four years, only to watch the Panthers use high draft picks on quarterbacks in consecutive years — Clausen in 2010 and Cam Newton in 2011.
The Panthers let Moore walk when his contract expired after the 2010 season, and he found a home in Miami as a backup to Chad Henne. An injury to Henne gave Moore his shot, and he was solid, completing 60.5 percent of his passes with nearly twice as many touchdowns as interceptions.
As a reward, the Dolphins brought in not just one guy to take his job, but two — Tannehill and veteran David Garrard.
“I don’t know that Matt has garnered the respect of either the media or some of the front offices he’s played for,” said Moore’s agent, Joe Aloisi, whose son Matthew played high school ball with Moore.
“But if you talk to some of his ex-coaches and offensive coordinators, they really, really like Matt.”
It’s the same in Miami, where Moore has befriended the very players trying to beat him out. His rapport with Garrard, now injured, was clear in the first episode of Hard Knocks. Tannehill called Moore a “great guy” Tuesday.
As for his coach?
“I love the guy,” Philbin said. “The guy is a competitor. I like being around him every day.
“I’m glad he’s on our team right now.”
Enjoy him now. Moore might not be around beyond this fall.