Armando Salguero

Beware assumptions Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill is indestructible man of steel

Arizona Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell (93) tackles Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17), during the second half of an NFL football game, Sun., Dec. 11, 2016, in Miami Gardens, Fla. Tannehill was injured on the play.
Arizona Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell (93) tackles Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17), during the second half of an NFL football game, Sun., Dec. 11, 2016, in Miami Gardens, Fla. Tannehill was injured on the play. AP

I want to tell you Ryan Tannehill is SuperQB. I want to spin a yarn about him playing past years without complaint behind offensive lines that everyone knew weren’t good enough. About how for years he got hit half-a-dozen times a game, sometimes so hard he urinated blood afterward, and how he absorbed 213 sacks and always got back up.

SuperQB.

I want to say Tannehill left Hard Rock Stadium Sunday evening with everyone thinking he had a season-ending torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee and woke up the next morning with what is only a manageable sprain.

I want to write a column about this man of steel.

Except I’m not a comic book writer.

I’m a sportswriter. Been doing it since the 1980s and in all that time I’ve never, ever seen anyone take a hit flush on an extended knee as Tannehill did Sunday afternoon and not need reconstructive surgery to address the damage.

And yet that is where the Dolphins tell us Tannehill finds himself now. The team is rejoicing he doesn’t need that reconstructive surgery. Coach Adam Gase reported to a stunned press corps Monday that an MRI confirmed Tannehill has a sprained ACL and MCL instead.

Great news right?

Well, yes.

And ... no.

Adam Gase, Miami Dolphins coach, talks to the media about quarterback Ryan Tannehill's knee injury he suffered in the Fins victory over the Arizona Cardinals.

This does not mean Tannehill is going to be playing anytime soon. Indeed, this does not even mean the MRI is correct. That’s why Tannehill is going for a second examination and opinion as early as Tuesday.

At any rate, he’s not playing at the New York Jets on Saturday. And he isn’t playing the following week at the Buffalo Bills. A source told me Monday the initial plan is to play Matt Moore in those games and give Tannehill time to stabilize the left knee.

And if the season-finale against New England is a meaningful game, and if Tannehill is mobile and up to it, and if there is no chance for long term damage to be done by playing, then Gase will ask a million questions of the team’s medical staff and the Dolphins will consider trotting out SuperQB against the Patriots. But that comes with zero certainty.

If the Dolphins, however, cannot rally behind new starter Matt Moore the next couple of weeks and fall out of the playoff hunt, the next time you’ll see Tannehill play is next season. And before you ask, yes, it’ll be for the Dolphins.

All that is all important. And fascinating.

The fact Tannehill will be the Dolphins quarterback next season is news. No, it’s not news to Gase, who has been like an ornery junkyard dog protector of Tannehill for the entire time they’ve known each other. Tannehill is Gase’s guy and that isn’t going to change.

But Tannehill as the Dolphins 2017 quarterback is news to people outside the organization who weeks ago were speculating Jay Cutler might be Miami’s quarterback next year (will never happen) or that the Dolphins might cut ties with Tannehill before his salary cap number nearly doubles in 2017 and beyond. That isn’t happening, either.

The Dolphins believe Tannehill improved on and off the field this year. And, they believe, there’s a reservoir from which they can draw even more improvement in the future. So Tannehill stays.

That means on the fifth day of the 2017 league year, sometime in March, the Dolphins will guarantee approximately $14.5 million of Tannehill’s salary simply by having him on the roster. And that guarantee means Tannehill will remain the Dolphins quarterback beyond this season.

That brings me to the injury portion of this saga. Remember the Dolphins feared Tannehill had torn his ACL rather than sprained it?

Team doctors performed what is called the Lachman test that showed enough instability to cause them to believe Tannehill tore the ACL. Well, the ensuing MRI suggested Tannehill only has a sprain.

But the dicey part of all this medical jargon is that a sprain is by definition a partial tear.

Adam Gase, Miami Dolphins coach, talks to the media about backup quarterback Matt Moore replacing injured quarterback Ryan Tannehill after Tannehill was injured in their victory over the Arizona Cardinals.

So while Tannehill does not have a full rupture, his ACL is indeed partially torn. That’s in the MRI he had. And unlike the MCL that heals itself through rest and regeneration, the ACL does not regenerate.

So the only way Tannehill can get that knee stable again is by hoping scar tissue builds up in the area to cover the partial tear -- which isn’t as good as having a new ACL -- and by strengthening his quadriceps so much as to provide added stability. Tannehill would also wear a left knee brace perhaps the rest of his career to ensure even more stability.

But here is the uncomfortable part: Players who have had partially torn ligaments can be more susceptible to a complete rupture later on.

This should remind of Robert Griffin III because in 2012 that quarterback sprained his lateral collateral ligament. And after sitting out a game, Griffin returned to action with a brace. And in the playoffs he completely ruptured the LCL and his ACL and has never been the same again.

No, the Dolphins will not rush Tannehill back on the field in RG3 fashion. But they do plan to play him next season.

So if Tannehill ever takes the field with partially torn ACL that wasn’t surgically replaced, but that rather was stabilized with scar tissue and strength training, it will seem as if he was patched back together rather than rebuilt as good as new.

And that seems a hard way for anyone, even SuperQB, to stay healthy.

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