Unsigned Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins off on wrong foot

David Garrard was the best quarterback on the field for the Dolphins their first day of training camp. Yes, it’s only one day of practice but Garrard’s experience and careful stewardship with the football are apparent even when he’s competing against teammates.

Matt Moore, meanwhile, was rewarded for his history as the Dolphins 2011 starting quarterback by getting most of the first-team snaps on Friday. He still throws a beautiful deep pass. He’s still something of a gunslinger. But he still succumbs to goofy moments such as that interception right in Koa Misi’s hands and the fumbled handoff that had offensive coordinator Mike Sherman kicking the air in disgust.

It’s an interesting competition between Garrard and Moore.

So why was everyone asking mostly about Ryan Tannehill?

Well, Tannehill isn’t signed and that’s bad. The team’s first-round pick and presumptive franchise quarterback is not in camp. And what’s worse, even as general manager Jeff Ireland said “progress is being made,” signs behind the scenes point to both sides digging in over language they disagree about in the contract.

Translation: Ryan Tannehill and the Dolphins are off to a bad start.

It’s a bad start for the Dolphins because they’re being fiscally wise but pragmatically unreasonable. You see, the reason the sides were not agreed Friday even as practically every other NFL first-round pick had already signed is that Miami wants to include offset language in Tannehill’s contract.

Offset language allows a team to recoup some of the guaranteed money it pays a particular player in the event that player becomes a bust and is cut before his contract expires.

The Dolphins are trying to add safeguard language to the deal in case they royally blew this pick. That’s smart. Other NFL teams have tried the same approach.

The problem is every team that tried the approach so early in the round has eventually dropped the cause. More importantly, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers abandoned their reach for offset language in Mark Barron’s contract and the Carolina Panthers similarly yielded on the issue with first-round pick Luke Kuechly.

Barron was drafted seventh and Kuechly went ninth. That means there is virtually no way the agent representing the eighth overall pick can agree to offset language without risking it being used against him by other agents when he’s trying to recruit clients next year.

And Tannehill is that eighth overall pick.

Tannehill, it’s fair to say, is painted into a corner and if his representative caves rival agents will say he committed a form of malpractice. The problem for Tannehill is that if he doesn’t give in while the Dolphins hold firm, he is taking himself out of the running for a chance to play early in 2012.

By missing only one practice, Tannehill missed 96 “slides” or views of plays the quarterbacks went over on the first day of practice.

“There’s a lot of information that he’s missing,” Moore said. “ He’ll definitely be a step behind missing a day. In training camp, the way it is now, that’s a huge piece with only the one practice and a walk-thru.

“That’s a big deal so he’ll have some stuff to make up and stuff to study up on.”

Then Moore, who is competing with Tannehill added slyly, “but he should be fine when he comes back.”

Yeah, he’ll be fine. If he misses a week, he’ll be fine and buried as a No. 3 quarterback for a long time.

That’s bad news for the Dolphins, right?

Well, the irony of it all is the Dolphins need Tannehill but are dealing from a position of strength because they don’t necessarily need him right now. While the quarterback competition is billed as open to all comers, the club seems comfortable if either Garrard or Moore win the job while allowing Tannehill to marinate a bit, learning to be a professional before being fed to angry defenses.

So the club can afford itself the luxury of pushing back hard against Tannehill’s representative. It can afford to delay the start of Tannehill’s run as the face of the franchise. It can play hardball.

And even if the Dolphins eventually cave, they lose nothing. Giving up on the offset language issue would mean Miami is doing the same thing most every other team did. As embarrassments go, that one wouldn’t even qualify.

Perhaps this sounds like a bunch of inside baseball stuff. It isn’t. It’s an issue that is pointing the Dolphins away from having Tannehill compete for a starting job while Garrard and Moore are improving their chances.

“I think my chances are pretty good,” Garrard said. “I don’t think they’d have me here or say it’s an open competition if they weren’t good. I know I can still play. I just got to continue to prove it on the field.”

Yes, the field. That place Ryan Tannehill cannot yet visit.

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