Ryan Tannehill is the Dolphins’ 2018 starting quarterback, is on track to participate in the spring practices, and “he will probably be stronger than he’s ever been.”
That’s all according to Adam Gase, who, flanked by team vice president Mike Tannenbaum and general manager Chris Grier, broke down a disappointing Dolphins season Wednesday.
The No. 1 disappointment?
Tannehill did not play a snap. He sustained his second knee injury in less than a year early in training camp and needed reconstructive surgery.
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Without him, the Dolphins slogged through a 6-10 season with Jay Cutler, Matt Moore and David Fales under center. They combined for 24 touchdowns, 21 interceptions and a passer rating under 80.
How would have the season been different had Tannehill never gotten hurt?
“I’m pretty sure you know my answer to this,” Gase said. “But it didn’t happen. It is what it is. Get him back next year and we’ll have a full slate with the spring, training camp, preseason. There was nothing we could do once he got injured. We made the adjustments we had to make.”
Tannehill twice tore ligaments in his left knee — first in December 2016, and then again eight months later. The Dolphins and Tannehill elected not to surgically repair his knee after the first injury. He got it fixed after the most recent injury, and has been seen running and throwing, both at the team’s practice facility and on the field before games.
“Anybody can go down at any moment,” Gase said. “I really don’t look at it as two injuries. I look at it as he had the knee. We were advised and so was he to handle it a certain way. It didn’t work out. That’s kind of the part of the business that’s tough. We went with advice that we all felt like was good for us. It didn’t work out. Next year, we get him back and he will probably be stronger than he’s ever been.”
Still, the Dolphins know they need a better insurance policy than they had in 2017. Cutler agreed to come out of retirement, and he essentially was the same inconsistent player he has been his entire career. Cutler completed 62 percent of his passes for 2,666 yards, 19 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.
He also cost the Dolphins $10 million, resources that would have otherwise been available to sign players in 2018.
So was signing Cutler the right decision?
“I think so,” Gase said. “He was somebody who had been in this system before. We thought we could get our guys moving in the same direction very quickly. It didn’t happen as fast as I was hoping. There was a lot of good that he personally did. There was probably some games where we wish he’d done some different things. ... It’s not like there was a ton of options to find a starting quarterback. We felt like Matt was a good option for us. But we felt having two guys who we knew that could play in regular season games was our best chance.”
The Dolphins were encouraged how Fales played after relieving Cutler on Sunday, which was his only appearance of the year.
Fales completed 29 of 43 passes, for 265 passes for 265 yards, threw and ran for a touchdown and had an interception that might not have been his fault. There appeared to be a miscommunication between Fales and his intended receiver.
Fales has a real chance to be on this team in 2018 as Tannehill’s backup. The coaching staff was encouraged by how he played against a Bills team that needed to win to make the playoffs. Players also liked how he threw the football.
“We’ve got a long ways to go, whether it be free agency, the draft,” Gase said. “We’ll see if one of these young guys we have develops over that time. I like what David did for us in this last game. He battled for four quarters, gave us a shot, and we’ll see where all of this goes.”
Could that even mean the Dolphins use their first-round pick — which will be 11th overall — on a quarterback, even with a healthy Tannehill?
“We’ve always said we’ll take the best player on our board,” Dolphins general manager Grier said. “I talked from Day 1. If J.J. Watt’s on the draft board when we’re picking, we’re not going to pass on J.J. Watt because defensive end we feel good about. All positions. We’re evaluating everything. Every position, it doesn’t matter, quarterback, tackle, defensive tackle. Everything’s wide open for us.”