- Connor Orr Around The NFL Writer
The Dolphins struck a one-year deal with quarterback Jay Cutler worth as much as $13 million, giving them a significant amount of capital committed in salary-cap dollars to the position for 2017. Injured starter Ryan Tannehill is responsible for $20,300,000 of that total.
But unfortunately for Tannehill, the team can earn some much-needed relief toward their 2018 salary cap without him.
This is brutal timing for the former first-round pick, who signed a six-year, $95.272 million deal back in 2015, which was essentially a bundled gr
oup of one-year deals after the 2016 season. At a point very early in the league year next year, the Dolphins could opt to walk away from the deal for a sum far less than the $19.8 million Tannehill is set to count for next year. They might also view it as one more proving ground year for Tannehill — after all, $19.8 million isn’t much more than the $18.5 million the Bears are paying Mike Glennon in a bridge quarterback-type role.
It’s an unfortunate confluence of events. Ndamukong Su
h‘s contract balloons to include a $26,100,000 cap hit, taking up a significant amount of the total cap. Tannehill approaches the age of 30 and, with the Dolphins potentially nearing a natural overhauling point for their roster, the team could simply look to move on from a passer with knee issue that dates back to last December when he partially tore his ACL. NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport noted Sunday that Miami coach Adam Gase made a serious push for Cutler after it became clear that Tannehill could need season-ending knee surgery
If you count Tannehill’s deal as essentially a one-year deal for 2017, the Dolphins would have zero quarterbacks under contract for the 2018 season if they part ways with their former first-round pick — a scary but enticing proposition for a young head coach with personnel sway and a potentially loaded quarterback draft class coming in 2018.
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It would have seemed like a silly question given how stubbornly confident Gase was in Tannehill’s abilities a little more than a year ago. And Tannehill did grow under his new head coach last season, playing effectively enough over 13 games to put Miami in position to make the playoffs. Until Tannehill decides on a medical option for his knee and until the Dolphins fully understand the scope of Tannehill’s issue, he will no doubt be supported by Gase and the rest of the organization. But the NFL waits for no man.
The silver lining for Tannehill is that, whenever he gets healthy, he will have work. Once the speculative smoke clears, he could remain with a Dolphins organization that seems to be enamored by his potential. As we saw during this offseason’s free agency period, the mad dash for quarterback talent bestows a jealousy-inducing amount of money for players with even replacement-level starting abilities. Miami could very well decide that no one, even a high-upside rookie, could serve them better than Tannehill.
The difficult part might be accepting the end of something promising.
If Tannehill’s 2016 season was projected out over a full 16 games, his final numbers would end up extremely close to the 2015 season Cutler produced alongside Gase in Chicago that nearly everyone in the media is praising Sunday (3,659 yards, 21 TDs to 11 picks). Tannehill was handling the ball better, taking far fewer sacks and increased his passer rating to the highest total of his career. Miami was most certainly the best place for him to continue growing, as there is no guarantee he’ll find another home with a gifted, quarterback-whispering head coach again.
So what happens next? With the Cutler deal Sunday, the Dolphins have essentially made it clear who their starter is for the foreseeable future this season. Tannehill will have to wait to find his own clarity.