It’s become increasingly obvious there are only two ways the Miami Dolphins will win a Super Bowl in the next few years: Maybe God reaches out and touches quarterback Ryan Tannehill and suddenly he begins playing like one of the NFL’s most elite passers. Or maybe the team drafts a quarterback who’s viable enough to play, suggesting a relatively early-round selection, and that new guy becomes the Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers of his generation.
That’s the pathway choices to a Dolphins championship by, say, 2023ish.
If one of those two improbable things don’t happen relatively soon, this team ain’t winning a Super Bowl before we’re well into the next decade. This team ain’t getting off the mediocre treadmill anytime soon.
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This franchise will continue being what it has been since for decades -- one that promises a chase at greatness but has never actually delivered or even come close.
So we’re at something of a crossroads because the Dolphins could really use one of the two improbable options to work out. I know you could use it, too.
And I can report that based on every action the Miami braintrust has taken so far this offseason, they seem to be banking on Tannehill while seemingly sliding the idea of finding that unpolished draft gem to a hot stove back burner.
Why do I say this?
Last week the Dolphins found themselves in a situation where they could easily have escaped Tannehill’s contract and thus their commitment to the player after the 2018 season.
The team could have easily decided that Tannehill, 30 in July, would have the ‘18 season to finally prove himself and then move on because his contract easily offered that option.
But that’s not the path Adam Gase, Mike Tannenbaum and Chris Grier chose. The Dolphins last week not only didn’t put any prove-it pressure on Tannehill for this season but actually relieved him of it and effectively made him their guy this year and next year.
In restructuring Tannehill’s contract, the Dolphins stamped him with a seal of confidence. Remember, the quarterback hasn’t thrown a pass since December 2016. He’s coming off multiple ACL injuries. No matter.
The Dolphins made the contract moves that turned $16 million from Tannehill’s 2018 base salary into bonuses and in so doing saved $11.1 million in salary cap space this year.
But the move added approximately $5.6 million to Tannehill’s cap cost in both 2019 and 2020.
So Tannehill’s cap cost, originally $21.5 million in 2019 rockets to over $26.6 million. And the cost of walking away from Tannehill, should he play poorly this coming season, goes from $2.3 million total to $13.4 million.
In other words, the knot tying Tannehill to the Dolphins -- to Gase and Tannenbaum and Grier -- got tighter.
And if you don’t think the financial workings and reworkings spoke clearly enough, then simply look at what has happened since free agency began.
The Dolphins added a starting left guard in Josh Sitton -- their signature free agent addition so far.
The Dolphins felt the need to move on from starting center Mike Pouncey for injury concerns and cap reasons, but they immediately replaced him with Daniel Kilgore, another experienced center.
The team added an experienced and accomplished slot receiver in Danny Amendola.
The team added a fast and (they say) versatile receiver in Albert Wilson.
The Dolphins have tried to upgrade the receiver room and the offensive line. Who should that directly benefit?
And the team isn’t done trying to improve the cast around Tannehill. There will be at least one and perhaps two tight end additions the remainder of this offseason. There will be at least one and possibly two running back additions the remainder of this offseason.
The team also wants to re-sign backup tackle Sam Young in case either Laremy Tunsil or Ja’Wuan James is injured.
All are moves to help the team’s forever quarterback.
So this is the spot where a critical thinker would argue none of this precludes the Dolphins from drafting a quarterback to eventually replace Tannehill.
And I concede, that looked quite possible weeks ago. The Dolphins were acting as if they might even be interested in one of the top guys in the first round.
But that first-round quarterback thing isn’t as likely now. It’s apparent that at least three and perhaps four quarterbacks will be taken before the Dolphins pick No. 11 overall in the first round next month.
So would the Dolphins reach for a lower graded quarterback at No. 11 after basically going all-in on Tannehill both fiscally and in resources expended?
Would they load up on the Tannehill plan and then ostensibly abandon the Tannehill plan by picking a QB in the first round?
I suppose anything can happen. The Dolphins do need a backup quarterback.
But reach for that backup quarterback in the first round? When jobs are on the line this season and the men on that line just tied themselves to Tannehill for a longer term?
It doesn’t seem that is what the Dolphins are planning.
It seems if (enormous if) the Dolphins are going to win a championship in the next few years, they’re betting that somehow Ryan Tannehill is going to be the one to get them there.
Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero