Ryan Tannehill posted a video on his Instagram account the other day, and it was perfect. The Dolphins’ quarterback looked healthy, sharp, and in command as he snapped spirals to his receivers in a private offseason workout. The action went from real-time to slow motion for dramatic effect. He was Leadership Guy as he fist-bumped his teammates.
The pump-up footage was set to a Jay-Z song called “Public Service Announcement,” a rap that begins with the declaration, “Allow me to reintroduce myself...”
It’s enough to make a Dolfan get the aqua face-paint ready as training camp begins with Thursday’s first full-squad practice.
Football’s back, Tannehill’s back, and the winning will follow — or so goes the storyline that the Dolphins are counting on as their 53rd season begins to unlimber. The lost season of Jay Cutler and that 6-10 record is past, and Tannehill’s triumphant return from a year lost to a knee injury will be the difference that makes Miami a playoff contender.
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That’s the script, anyway.
It’s the same one that the Dolphins have been counting on since 2012 when they made Tannehill the No. 8 overall pick in the draft. This begins his seventh NFL season. He turns 30 on Friday. It may be harsh to say Miami has become a franchise held hostage by its faith in Tannehill, but it does seem fair to wonder (again) about the logic of believing a QB now coming off one season ended by a knee injury and another erased by a knee injury suddenly will blossom to be better than he has ever yet shown.
Welcome to the continuing soap opera, “Is Tannehill Good Enough?” (Season VII).
The question and the debate over the answer overshadow all else about the coming season. It will determine whether Miami can surprise the doubters who’ve set the team’s betting over/under on wins at 6 1/2. It might also determine if the Fins are ready to move on from No. 17 and finally draft his replacement. And if VP of football operations Mike Tannenbaum keeps his job.
There are Dolphins subplots this summer. The “culture makeover” that saw stars Jarvis Landry, Ndamukong Suh, and Mike Pouncey shown the door. The feel-good homecoming of former Hurricane Frank Gore, at 35 the NFL’s oldest running back. The unwrapping of top draft pick Minkah Fitzpatrick.
But Tannehill’s comeback looms bigger than all of them. No starting quarterback in the NFL is under more pressure, partly because very few of them are leading a club that hasn’t won a playoff game since the 2000 season, when Ryan was a 12-year-old boy loping around Big Spring, Texas. Much of that drought is a burden that Tannehill inherited, but a chunk of it is on him.
No starting QB, by my reckoning, is held in higher regard by his own coach and front office but is as critically panned by outside opinion. Fans seem to be somewhere in between. Talk to 10 Dolfans about Tannehill. You won’t hear a consensus. The latest indication of critical outward opinion is ESPN’s fifth annual quarterback “tier rankings.” Tannehill is ranked in the lower third of four tiers, 27th of 32 starters overall (right below Blake Bortles). That’s based on the composite opinion of 50 anonymous NFL executives.
“He is one of those guys like [Andy] Dalton, where you wait for them to take the next step, but they just kind of level off,” said one former GM of Tannehill.
Said a personnel director: “He has a good arm and is a good athlete, but similar to that [Sam] Bradford-type deal, he hasn’t really done much except tease us and flash a little bit.”
I think Tannehill tends to be maligned, ranked too low, overly criticized. He is productive. He has passed for 18,455 yards in five seasons. His accuracy has improved and TD/interception differential of 106-66 is pretty solid. He ain’t bad, folks. Assuming he stays healthy, a handful of teams might see him as an upgrade. But the bottom line hurts: the 37-40 career record and zero playoff wins.
Tannehill has not shown himself to be the difference-maker who can lift a team, put it on his shoulders, and create success above and beyond his surrounding cast. Miami needs him to finally be that.
So the question is this as training camp begins and as Ryan Tannehill says (via Jay-Z), “Allow me to reintroduce myself”:
Are we getting New & Improved? Or the same guy we’re still not quite sure is good enough?