Armando Salguero

Seventeen years since Dan Marino retired. And Dolphins QB situation has never been worse

When quarterback Ryan Tannehill went down with an injury, the Dolphins turned to Jay Cutler, with Matt Moore as the backup. The team’s record with Cutler and Moore is 4-5.
When quarterback Ryan Tannehill went down with an injury, the Dolphins turned to Jay Cutler, with Matt Moore as the backup. The team’s record with Cutler and Moore is 4-5. AP

Dan Marino is around the Miami Dolphins a lot. He watches practices. He sometimes studies tape with the quarterbacks or coaches. Yes, he uses reading glasses now and wrinkles are starting to crease his movie star face, but he still towers over this franchise.

Marino casts a giant shadow 17 years after his retirement because, well, he was great. But also because the Dolphins still haven’t found his heir.

And, the thing is, we’re 18 quarterbacks down the road from that day Marino left the game. And it’s never been worse than it is right now.

You know the names that followed Marino: Fiedler, Henne, Pennington, Green, Culpepper, Harrington, on and on. You even know the forgettable quarterbacks who started games for this team after Marino stopped playing. Thigpen. Lemon. Beck.

Bad times.

But here’s the galling thing about the Dolphins’ on-going and apparently forever search to find a Marino heir: These are the worst of times.

No, the team isn’t 1-15 with Trent Green nursing a concussion or John Beck embarrassing himself in Buffalo or Cleo Lemon struggling to complete passes. That time was admittedly painful.

But the reason I say now is worse is because that long-ago Green-Beck-Lemon stretch -- or any other stretch you’ve had to endure -- was temporary. It didn’t last. The team suffered and soon plowed ahead.

Someone figured out pretty quickly that the nice guy who practiced hard and studied diligently but failed on game day had to go.

Now? The Dolphins are nursing a quarterback whose left knee has given out two consecutive seasons. And the current starter is a long-time NFL veteran who came out of retirement to play for coach Adam Gase when no one else wanted him.

Neither player has been the answer.

Neither has been good enough long enough to get the Dolphins into the postseason. Neither has been consistently good for any significant length of time.

And yet, nothing is about to change for the Dolphins at quarterback.

We’re in a holding pattern. Limbo.

That, my friends, is worse than knowing the guy on the team isn’t the right guy and moving on.

The Dolphins don’t know the answer at quarterback is in their organization. They may think they know, but they don’t really know. Yet they’re probably not going to do anything significant to change the situation anytime soon.

So we’re stuck.

And not making any progress while not being good enough at the sport’s most important position is worse than being terrible and quickly moving on.

For the record, Ryan Tannehill might some day be good enough to help the Dolphins get the offense to play well for a long time. But he’s never done that before. And 2017 is his sixth NFL season.

So six seasons into his career as the undisputed Dolphins starter, Tannehill still has not proven to anyone he’s a playoff quarterback. He might be. But he might not be.

Obviously the knee injury that he is rehabilitating now has played a factor in this incomplete evaluation. But that only adds frustration because now, aside from not knowing whether Tannehill can show great ability, no one knows if can show great durability.

So Tannehill -- 30 years old when next season begins -- is still a mystery.

There was a time this year when the Dolphins didn’t want to address what they planned to do with Jay Cutler beyond this season. Maybe he played so well he’d be the new guy going forward. And if he didn’t play well he’d be a one-year rental.

It looks more like the latter now but there’s no certainty to it. The Monday Night Football crew said on air last week that Gase declined to address the topic. Cutler, meanwhile, apparently told the same crew he was having fun and wouldn’t mind playing beyond this year.

That raises the possibility -- however remote -- Cutler may not be just a one-year emergency addition. And that’s scary.

So why is the small possibility of Cutler returning next year a bad idea? Because he’s never been a great quarterback in 12 previous seasons, including this one, and he’s not going to start being great next season.

Right now, Cutler is mostly a quarterback who every week is fighting to play well. He’s fighting to not make mistakes. He’s even fighting to keep his feet set correctly when he throws.

That’s right, a dozen years into his career and Cutler’s mechanics are still a problem.

I understand Cutler, sacked 315 times in his career, has every right to want to protect himself against angry defensive linemen. But too often this season that has meant him throwing off his back foot or drifting away from the pressure at the expense of, you know, completing a pass.

“It’s always a constant battle,” Cutler said. “You’re always fighting it. Whether to drift or not to drift. You’ve got four to five guys coming at you at all times, so it’s a constant battle.”

If Cutler is fighting this battle, the battle is already lost because stuff like this doesn’t get better at age 34. Stuff like this and inconsistencies in Cutler’s performance tell me the Dolphins need to move on from him after this year.

The questions surrounding Tannehill also tell me the Dolphins need to add a new a quarterback so good he can be ready to replace him.

Unfortunately, the Dolphins don’t share my opinion. One of these two guys will likely be their starter next year. So the Dolphins will continue to be stuck in limbo.

Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero