Ryan Tannehill knows this much: He’s the starter for the season’s last five games.
Beyond that, nothing is guaranteed.
That’s the takeaway from Tannehill’s Wednesday news conference, when he acknowledged that he has been given no assurances that he will be the Dolphins’ quarterback in 2019.
“Haven’t discussed it,” Tannehill said. “And it doesn’t matter at this point. It’s a matter of going out for this team, winning games and making the playoffs.”
Just because he hasn’t discussed it with the team doesn’t mean those in charge have not discussed it among themselves.
They know they have a hugely consequential decision to make this offseason — assuming that Adam Gase, Mike Tannenbaum and Chris Grier are still the ones making those decisions.
Nothing seems certain after Sunday’s gutting loss in Indianapolis, where the Dolphins blew a 10-point fourth-quarter lead and Gase took the ball out of Tannehill’s hands on two critical third downs.
Tannehill would earn $18.7 million in base salary and count $26.6 million against the Dolphins’ salary cap in 2019, assuming he is on the team under his existing contract. That would make him the NFL’s sixth-most expensive quarterback, which is not commensurate with his play.
Tannehill ranks 15th in passer rating (97.2), 17th in completion percentage (66.2) and 16th in yards-per-attempt (7.6).
And he’s missed 25 regular- and post-season games since injuring his knee in December 2016.
So at the very least, the Dolphins will closely evaluate how he performs over the season’s final five weeks and will use that information when determining what to do at their most important position.
“If you’re on the field, you’re getting evaluated,” Tannehill acknowledged. “That is what it is. Whatever you put on tape, that’s what this team and every other team has to go on. If you’re on the field, you’re getting evaluated.”
The Dolphins are in a tough spot with Tannehill. Quarterbacks are hard to find and he is a legitimate NFL starter. But he has yet to appear in a playoff game, and short of a miraculous turnaround this last month, that will not change in Year 7.
He’s a middle-of-the-pack guy who has the salary-cap price tag of a superstar.
For now, all Tannehill can do is get (and stay healthy) and play well.
He took every snap for the Dolphins on Sunday, playing through pain and with a harness on his injured right shoulder. He hurt the capsule in that shoulder in early October, and has not been the same since.
“I felt good,” Tannehill said. “My confidence was built during the week. Being able to throw Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and really didn’t run into any hang-ups there, so I felt good going into the game that there wasn’t going to be an issue.”
The pain is “manageable” and “tolerable,” Tannehill said. And the shoulder feels better this week than it did last.
But one awkward or hard hit Sunday against the Bills could change everything. A couple of times after the Colts took him to the ground, Tannehill turned to the sidelines and flashed a thumbs-up.
On Wednesday, he explained why:
“Sometimes Gase will pop into my helmet and just make sure everything’s all right,” Tannehill joked. “He’s like my mom, you know?”
Except most moms can’t fire their sons.
Gase has that power.
And if things go sideways the final five games, might use it.
“I don’t know what the agenda is but that’s my goal — to go play well and lead this team to wins,” Tannehill said. “I don’t think about things I can’t control.”
Tannehill added: “Our margin is small. We have to go out and we have to win. There’s not a whole lot of sugarcoating — we have to go out and play well and win.”