It was clear to all, instantly, that the Miami Dolphins hired Adam Gase as their new head coach specifically because owner Stephen Ross and roster shaper Mike Tannenbaum both saw Gase as the quarterback guru who might best help elevate Ryan Tannehill to the next level.
Miami wants to give Tannehill a (last) chance to become the star you can win with rather than reboot the whole thing and try to find somebody else.
The Fins still aren’t sure what they have in Tannehill, but all they need to do is look at the NFL playoffs this weekend to be reminded how essential the QB position is, and therefore how much of a crucial priority it is that Tannehill raise his game.
The surviving, final eight teams include seven of the league’s elite biggest stars at the most important position. The only middleweight still playing is Kansas City’s Alex Smith, although the Chiefs’ 11-game winning streak and Smith’s performance in four career playoff games (10 TDs, one interception) suggest that, if he is the “game manager” type, at least he has pretty much mastered the genre.
Look at this weekend’s arm matchups to be reminded how far the right QB can carry you:
▪ Chiefs at Patriots: While Smith is solid more than a star, Tom Brady may be the ultimate star, the greatest postseason winner of all-time and destined, I think, to retire considered the best ever, period. What he has done this season, at age 38, his offense ravaged by injuries, only underlines his greatness. And I love Brady’s succinct synopsis of this time of year: “Play your biggest at the biggest moments against the best teams in the toughest conditions.”
▪ Steelers at Broncos: Ben Roethlisberger vs. Peyton Manning. Oh, man! Big Ben, the risk-taking gunslinger, a latter-day Favre, seemingly forever getting hurt but always getting up. Manning the all-time great, back in the starting lineup after two months injured, trying to feather his legend with one last run.
▪ Packers at Cardinals: Canton-bound Aaron Rodgers has had an off year, for him, meaning he has been merely really good instead of other-worldly. Carson Palmer, at 36, is playing the best he has in his career, in an MVP-quality season. He is the only final-eight QB who has yet to win a postseason game, but watch that change Saturday night.
▪ Seahawks at Panthers: Russell Wilson vs. Cam Newton. This may be the most interesting QB duel of all, one of dual threats, and the one for this generation. Newton produced 45 TDs passing or rushing this season and is the presumptive league MVP. Wilson may be better — at least was in a surreal second half of the season.
There will not be a running back playing this weekend who ranked higher than 14th (Denver’s Ronnie Hillman) in NFL rushing this season. That assumes Pittsburgh’s DeAngelo Williams, who finished ninth, is out injured again.
That underlines the overarching emphasis on passing today, especially by teams that win.
It is why we see a QB-driven final eight.
And it is the reason Gase is in Miami.
▪ Chip Kelly to 49ers becomes the first “star” head-coaching hire of the offseason, following the less headline-making moves of Gase to Dolphins, Hue Jackson to Browns and Ben McAdoo to Giants — with three other jobs (Eagles, Bucs, Titans) still open as of Thursday. Jackson’s hiring may have the most intresting immediate result, though. Cleveland agreed it would part ways with Johnny Manziel in order to get Jackson. Now, unless it’s attention loving Jerry Jones in Dallas, I wonder if any team will still see a future in self-destructing Johnny Football?
▪ St. Louis is losing its Rams and San Diego may lose its Chargers, too — both to relocation in Los Angeles next season. But, with due respect to the good folks in those two jilted cities, these moves don’t resonate nationally in a way other NFL movement has. The Baltimore Colts moving to Indianapolis in 1984 and the Browns leaving Cleveland for Baltimore in ’96 were NFL earthquakes with wider tremors.
▪ I’m no mouthpiece for the NFL. I know concussions and off-field scandals have taken a toll. But I also am not one to exaggerate the supposed shaky future of pro football in America, because our appetite remains ravenous. Latest example: The top 25-rated shows on TV and (46 of the top 50) were NFL games during the Sept. 10-Jan. 3 span of the regular season. We may wince over violent hits and shake heads over the latest player arrest … but oh do we keep watching!
Read Greg’s Random Evidence blog daily at MiamiHerald.com and follow on Twitter @gregcote.