Dolphins quarterbacks, historically, don’t get a fourth season unless they earned it in the previous three.
David Woodley didn’t. Neither did Chad Henne.
It’s entirely possible that Ryan Tannehill does not know this history. But what he, like most any young quarterback, does understand is that Year 3 is an audition for the future.
The Dolphins must decide this spring whether they want to pick up the fifth-year option on his rookie contract. It won’t come cheap; the extra year would cost the franchise roughly $15 million, and would be guaranteed in the case of injury.
Given that hefty one-year cap hit, the Dolphins would probably be better suited giving him a long-term deal. But first, they must decide if he deserves it.
Based on his ascendent 2014 season, many would argue he does. Statistically, Tannehill is a top-15 quarterback, and those are just as hard to replace as they are to find.
On Wednesday – as the Dolphins began preparing in earnest for their must-win game against the Jets – Tannehill agreed that he’s gotten better as the year has gone on.
“Yeah, I feel like it,” Tannehill said. “I don’t know exactly how my numbers look. I feel more and more comfortable the more games we play.”
Here’s how his 2014 numbers do look:
▪ Tannehill in September games: completed 60 percent of passes; averaged 5.8 yards per attempt; passer rating of 81.2.
▪ Tannehill in October games: completed 66 percent of passes; averaged 7.8 yards per attempt; passer rating of 94.3.
▪ Tannehill in December games: completed 73 percent of his passes; averaged 6.8 yards per attempt; passer rating of 106.0
So, has he shown enough to be the Dolphins’ quarterback for the next five to 10 years?
“That’s not up to me to decide,” Tannehill said. “... I don’t really think about that. I think I need to get better and I need to make plays. I want to be here for a long time. Obviously, I understand, in order to do that, you have to play well. So that all goes into it. But at the end of the day, I just want to win. I want to take this team to the playoffs and go from there.”
Joe Philbin usually guards lavish compliments like elves guard Santa’s workshop.
But even he praised the way Tannehill has developed.
When asked if he’s seen improvement in his quarterback in the past month, Philbin replied: “Yeah, I think he’s been playing better. I think he’s been playing better for probably even a hair longer than that. Certainly, he’s been throwing the ball accurately and doing a good job running the offense.”
Jarvis Landry, an emerging star in just his rookie season, was asked what’s impressed him the most about Tannehill.
His response: “Just his aggressiveness he’s been bringing to the game every week. His ability to take over a game. Right now, it’s been no flutter. He’s still on a constant rise. He’s still improving, and we all are. Just excited about what the future holds.”
Productivity and leadership are no longer question marks for Tannehill. He’s proven both -- even if there is ample room for improvement.
But one benchmark he still must reach: Winning in December, and getting the Dolphins to the postseason.
In 10 December games as a pro, Tannehill has gone just 5-5. In those games, he’s completed 57 percent of his passes and averaged 6.2 yards per attempt -- for a passer rating of 82.0.
“It’s the biggest month of the year,” Tannehill said. “All games are important in the NFL, but, when you really look at it, December is when you either make or break. You either fight your way into the playoffs or you let your spot slip. So it’s a huge month for us.”