A franchise that has sunk itself under the weight of a lot of bad decisions for a long time made a very good decision Monday afternoon.
The Dolphins decided to begin the Ryan Tannehill era now, not later. Decided to fast-track the future. Decided to allow a bit of instant and desperately needed hope to spread like oxygen across a hard-fallen club and its beaten-down fandom.
This was the right decision all along, but around here the right choice might never be assumed, so: Can I get a Hallelujah?
The Dolphins have a new starting quarterback today, handing the keys to that essential position to a rookie for the first time since 1983, and that’s pretty monumental. “Next Marino?” That isn’t fair. But it is fair to wonder and to imagine and to dream.
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Let’s find out. That’s what this is all about. Let’s see what we have for real.
I wrote on the first day of training camp and again after the first preseason game that this season should be given to Tannehill now, even as most in the media and many fans proposed the rookie wasn’t ready and that either veteran QB, David Garrard before his injury or incumbent Matt Moore, would give Miami a better chance to “win now.”
Guess what. Winning now, this season, isn’t the most important thing. Winning big again for a long time is what matters, and that starts with Tannehill. That starts with getting this kid to be as good as he can be as quickly as possible. And that starts with giving him the one thing he must play to acquire: Experience.
Maybe first-year coach Joe Philbin opting for Tannehill was a bit of a concession. Maybe his team’s ragged play in two exhibition losses has shown Philbin what most analysts and bettors already figured: That Miami would not be a playoff team this season but was building for the future.
If so it was a proper concession. It was realism. I’d rather win five or six games with Tannehill than seven with Moore or Garrard because the payday is that the rookie banks his experience now and gets to where he’s going sooner.
Expect a learning curve, sure. Expect bumps, rookie inconsistencies and the odd interception. Marino was a wunderkind from the moment he started midway through his rookie year but not all are. Tannehill could be Marino-esque or he could struggle or be a hundred shades of gray in between. The point is Miami has dearly needed another franchise quarterback for about an unlucky 13 years, ever since the great No. 13 retired. So let’s all find out together if Tannehill is it.
It was bordering on ludicrous for this club to ever first give the start to an aging, injury-prone Garrard, or to then consider Moore — the guy who obviously wasn’t good enough or else they’d have not spent a No. 1 draft pick on Tannehill, right?
This franchise has had enough with stopgap answers at this position. Enough with wheel-spinning and delaying and Band-Aids.
Time to move forward in a big, bold way. Time to remind the NFL there is still a team in Miami. Being on Hard Knocks is nice. Having a start quarterback is better.
Who’s to say Tannehill isn’t good enough and ready enough to give to Miami what Cam Newton did in Carolina last season? Or what Indianapolis and Washington expect now of Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III? Let’s find out.
Besides, a rookie starting at quarterback for Miami should be just about the least of what’s worrying Philbin midway through the preseason.
Tannehill’s greatest liability at the moment isn’t his inexperience. It is that he needs to be better protected by his offensive line and better helped by his receivers than he has been in the first two fake games. The rookie also will need Miami’s defense to be much better than it has shown to alleviate as much pressure from Tannehill as possible.
By being named the starter now, he’ll get the first-team reps from here on out, an invaluable preparation. (Better he might have had that from Day 1).
“The more you can be on the same page [with receivers], it’s obviously a good thing,” Tannehill said Monday, prior to his coach naming him the starter.
Or, As Philbin later put it, “To give a quarterback the confidence to play, you gotta start getting him ready.”
Philbin called his choice a “close competition,” perhaps to soften the blow for Moore, or perhaps because going with a more proven veteran might have been a safer call. Sorry, though, a club that last won a Super Bowl in 1973 and last played in one in 1984 — a club more than a decade distanced from its most recent playoff victory — should be way beyond playing it safe.
Philbin described his choice of Tannehill rather clinically, saying, “We think he is very poised, a mature individual. It isn’t too big for him. We think he has a chance to be a very accurate passer. He has very good mobility.”
And that’s all fine. It is.
But I would describe Monday’s decision in broader, more emotional terms.
This franchise needs a hero, a superstar, a savior.
I’m not positive Ryan Tannehill will be all of those things.
I’m just positive it is time to find out.