Dolphins coach Adam Gase told his team loud and clear last week that he is a new coach so he’s not getting fired at year’s end.
He told them the general manager is in his first year so he’s not getting fired.
Gase told his players the people that run the organization are not going anywhere.
You guys, Gase told the entire roster of players, are the ones who will get blown out if things don’t work out.
Well, things aren’t working out. The Dolphins lost for the third time in four games Thursday night when Cincinnati beat them, 22-7.
And, yes, this 2016 Dolphins season has now reached the point where guys are starting to get blown out.
Cornerback Byron Maxwell, not good enough the first three games of the season, lost his starting job on Thursday night.
He was supposed to be the Dolphins’ best cornerback this year but that hasn’t manifested into reality.
Not even close.
And so against a Cincinnati team that was going to put A.J. Green on the field, the Dolphins shrugged their shoulders and benched Maxwell and put Tony Lippett on the field instead.
Lippett, by the way, is an incomplete cornerback. He’s a three-year project, and this is his second season. And, yes, he played like it for important portions of this game.
Asked to tackle Green one-on-one 7 yards from the end zone, he merely fell off the better, more experienced wide receiver who, after discarding Lippett, strolled in for a touchdown.
And this is what this season has become for the Dolphins.
It’s about finding out if project players are ready to make a jump. It’s about finding out if players the Dolphins have previously made a commitment to — such as Maxwell — are actually worth staying committed to.
An optimist will say it’s too early to make this transition. The point will be made the Dolphins should continue working toward making the playoffs and meeting owner Stephen Ross’ stated season goal.
Well, the Dolphins will publicly say that’s exactly what they’re doing even as they make more moves that will affect 2017, ’18 and ’19.
The Dolphins will just keep playing. Keep winning or losing — it might not matter at this stage. And keep finding out what they’ve got.
Players are on notice.
Right tackle Ja’Wuan James is on notice. He’s given up important pressures and sacks the past two games, including a strip sack in the first half on Thursday. He’s actually going from being a solid player to collapsing as a pass blocker. It is troubling.
The Dolphins came into this Cincinnati game confident their offensive line depth was about to go on display.
It was on display alright. It showed itself as awful in allowing pressure after pressure and five sacks on quarterback Ryan Tannehill. All those depth guys are on notice.
Outside linebackers Koa Misi and Jelani Jenkins are on notice. Their history is one punctuated by injuries and missed games, and they only added to that by missing Thursday. That’s obviously not good.
The Dolphins will use the remainder of this year to make decisions about veterans such as Mario Williams and Arian Foster and Andre Branch and Jason Jones.
Everyone, it seems, is at risk.
One player that everyone believes is not under the scrutiny microscope is Tannehill. Gase loves him. Ross loves him. Club executive vice president Mike Tannenbaum paid him a ton of money.
This also is true: Tannehill is faced with issues that go unseen in public and ignored by critics.
I’m told if it’s not the pass protection breaking down, or one receiver rounding out a pass route, or a drop by a tight end, it’s simply Gase calling a bad play.
The thing is only Gase admits when he messes up.
The other guys don’t raise their hands.
So Tannehill’s climb to being a good quarterback is more mountain climb than stroll up a hill.
This is Year Five, big fella.
Where’s the play in which Tannehill understands that he’s got three of five starting offensive linemen out or playing new positions and James is struggling, so instead of just standing there and waiting for Cincy defensive end Carlos Dunlap to beat James and strip him of the ball, he steps up into an open area of the pocket instead?
When does that happen?
Tannehill fumbled for the 41st time in his career Thursday and 24th time on the road. He’s lost 16 of those 24 road fumbles and the fact something bad seemingly always happens back there when Tannehill’s standing in the pocket is one reason the Dolphins are 13-22 on the road with Tannehill at quarterback.
This isn’t to blame every Dolphins problem on Tannehill. But when does he become part of the solution? Forget that.
When does he get it?
Look, Trevor Siemian figured out the Bengals. He’s in his second year in the NFL and first year as a surprise starter for the Denver Broncos. He never started an NFL game before this season.
But Siemian threw for 312 yards and four touchdowns against the Bengals five days ago.
Siemian, Dak Prescott, Carson Wentz and Jimmy Garoppolo all have less starting experience than Tannehill.
Three of the four are playing in their system for the first time this year, Garoppolo being the exception.
So the fact Tannehill is learning Gase’s system for the first time is not an acceptable excuse.
And yet, three of the four younger and less experienced quarterbacks have not thrown an interception. Tannehill came into Thursday with four.
Three of the four are undefeated and the other, Prescott, has led his team to a 2-1 record.
And this: All four of those young QBs have better ratings than Tannehill.
I have been a Tannehill supporter. I remain that because I still think he can be salvaged. But these comparative stats are troubling facts.
That inconsequential first half and poor second half he had Thursday was depressing because it was a fact. Tannehill struggling in the first half of every game this year is a fact.
The point is the Dolphins are obviously now in evaluation mode. They’re not going to fire the head coach at year’s end. They’re not firing the general manager.
The players are the ones who have been told they’re the ones going at the end of the year if things don’t work out.
And I don’t think that list set for evaluation should exempt Ryan Tannehill.