Armando Salguero

Armando Salguero: Ryan Tannehill proving he is future of franchise

Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill runs the ball as Minnesota Vikings defender Brandon Watts tackles him in the first quarter at Sun Life Stadium on Sunday, Dec. 21, 2014.
Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill runs the ball as Minnesota Vikings defender Brandon Watts tackles him in the first quarter at Sun Life Stadium on Sunday, Dec. 21, 2014. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

Ryan Tannehill is a keeper. We should all agree on that.

Amid the debate that will rage Monday morning about Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross and his decisions to keep head coach Joe Philbin for at least another season, there will be impassioned and even well-reasoned arguments made that:

▪ Ross is not the right owner for this franchise because how does a smart owner reward continued mediocrity with an endorsement without, as Ross said, even talking to Jim Harbaugh?

▪ Then there’s the debate about Philbin. He is not the right coach, some will argue, because he admittedly came to the Miami to make this team “a consistent contender” as he says, and on Sunday the team was eliminated from the playoffs for the third time in three years under the coach.

▪ And while the Ross and Philbin bashers will be loud (and proud) the other side of both debates will have plenty of ammunition as well because Ross is showing conviction and embracing stability while Philbin is quite possibly going to squeeze slow but steady improvement out of his team for the second consecutive year if they finish 9-7.

But there is no counter argument pushing back against Ryan Tannehill.

The right guy

There is no logical argument against the idea Tannehill is the right guy at quarterback for the Dolphins. In that regard, Tannehill is a better quarterback already than Ross is an owner or Philbin is a coach.

Tannehill is pretty good at what he does despite the obvious pitfalls and setbacks any NFL player endures and must continually overcome. We cannot say that emphatically about Ross and Philbin at their jobs without getting significant pushback.

Don’t trust my opinion — although if you don’t why the heck are you reading this? But trust your eyes.

Tannehill on Sunday showed what he could do.

While the defense was riding its roller coaster of big plays made versus big plays allowed, while the offensive line was often leaking pressure from the Vikings’ front, while the Miami running game was feasting in the first half and bordering on a second-half famine, there was Tannehill playing well.

He threw four touchdown passes.

He threw for a season-high 396 yards, which was also the second most in his three-year career.

His quarterback rating was a bloated 118.1 and marked the sixth time this season he’s eclipsed the 100.

Oh yeah, and Tannehill brought the Dolphins back from a 35-28 deficit with 4:35 to play by marching the team 80 yards with 75 of those coming via the pass. The comeback might not seem like much to fans turned off by the team’s failure to get in the postseason, but it was a watershed moment for anyone recognizing it helped Miami avoid the season’s most embarrassing loss.

“I come into every game expecting to move the ball,” Tannehill said afterward. “Especially in the second half, guys really made plays. You see guys making huge catches, huge runs after they catch the ball; getting open and the offensive line was dong a great job of letting me go through my reads.

“That’s what we can do. Whenever you put the whole picture together, that’s offense.”

Wait. Let’s be honest.

The offensive line Tannehill so enthusiastically endorses is only slightly better than the turnstile unit of a year ago. Blame injuries. Blame cohesion. Blame a scheduling quirk that has Miami playing great pass rushers most weeks.

But the fact is Tannehill gets hit on a great number of passing plays — maybe half. He consistently has defenders in his face even when he doesn’t get plowed.

Showing toughness

It has been that way for two seasons and he simply keeps bouncing back up and taking the next snap as if he’s made of rubber.

More importantly, the guy shows no fear.

It should not go unnoticed how terrible offensive line play ruined the careers of some promising quarterbacks of the past. David Carr, Archie Manning and others were never good or as good as they might have been had they been protected. Even Tom Brady’s mastery and skills diminish in the face of an angry rush.

But Tannehill, under assault for two seasons, is getting better.

His 26 touchdowns to 12 interceptions is not optimal, but very good. He is only the second quarterback in franchise history to throw 25-or-more TDs in a season.

Yes, Dan Marino is the other.

Tannehill’s 35 completions on Sunday were a career high. His four TDs were a career high and the most by a Miami quarterback since Marino threw four in 1998.

The evidence of good news is everywhere.

Nothing here is saying Tannehill is close to Marino. But he is the best the Dolphins have had since Marino, and that includes the one-year revelation that Chad Pennington delivered in 2008.

And the best thing about Tannehill is he has not fully arrived.

He can still hold the ball too long as he did on a fourth-quarter coverage sack. But he’s also gifted enough erase that mistake with a 14-yard completion and a touchdown pass in two of his next three passes.

There are still fair questions about his deep ball accuracy. But last week showed he’s closer to fixing that problem than not.

Improving game

Tannehill has improved every season for three years. Next year his chances of improving again are good because it will be his second year in the same Bill Lazor offense and general manager Dennis Hickey — who is also returning for 2015, by the way — will be adding offensive line help and reinforcements for the running game.

Philbin has often said Tannehill remains a work in progress. But as the player’s third season draws to close that likely needs adjusting.

Ryan Tannehill is a good work in progress. And that makes him a keeper.

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