DAVIE, Fla. — The Miami Dolphins (4-2) have several components in place to become a long-term threat in the AFC.
They have a bright, young coach in Adam Gase, who has a 14-8 record since taking over last season, an owner in Stephen Ross who is committed to winning, and Pro Bowl talent at running back (Jay Ajayi), wide receiver (Jarvis Landry), defensive tackle (Ndamukong Suh) and defensive end (Cameron Wake).
But what Miami doesn’t have is a franchise quarterback, and that’s the biggest obstacle keeping the Dolphins from the taking next step after making the playoffs last season. Career backup Matt Moore will get his first start of the season Thursday night against the Baltimore Ravens (3-4) in place of the injured and inconsistent Jay Cutler, who suffered multiple cracked ribs.
That raises this question: Who will be Miami’s quarterback in 2018?
1. Go back to Ryan Tannehill
This is the safe and mostly likely play for Miami. The Dolphins have in-house a 2012 first-round pick at quarterback who knows the offense and is recovering from injury. Tannehill was 8-5 as a starter under Gase last year.
Tannehill is as tough as they come and is showing impressive progress since tearing his ACL and MCL in his right knee during training camp. Last weekend he was throwing 15-yard outs and 30-yard lobs in warmups at Hard Rock Stadium before Miami’s win over the New York Jets. He is attacking rehab and constantly around the team showing leadership, helping Gase and the other quarterbacks.
However, Tannehill will be 30 next July and is coming off back-to-back serious knee injuries. The Dolphins also have an interesting decision to make contractually with him. His $17.5 million salary for 2018 isn’t fully guaranteed until next March. Miami has the option to cut ties with Tannehill before then and save approximately $12 million to spend on other players and/or search for a new quarterback.
2. Re-sign Cutler
If the Dolphins opt to save $12 million by releasing Tannehill, that money could go to Cutler. He has a good rapport with Gase, who convinced Cutler to come out of retirement in August.
The Dolphins will be in an interesting spot if Cutler leads them to the playoffs this season. Miami is 4-2 in Cutler’s six starts. He has thrown for 995 yards, seven touchdowns and five interceptions. But it has been a struggle overall for the offense, which is ranked last in yards per game (261.8) and points per game (15.3) entering Thursday’s matchup with the Ravens.
The Dolphins are paying Tannehill $18 million and Cutler $10 million this season. They simply cannot afford to invest that much money at the quarterback position for a second year in a row and probably must pick one or the other next year.
3. Trade for Andrew Luck
It takes bold moves to become a legitimate Super Bowl contender, and this would make the Dolphins’ current position.
The Colts (2-5) need a full rebuild and are going nowhere with or without Luck. Part of that rebuild might include entertaining trade offers for the former No. 1 overall pick after this season, while the value is still high.
An attractive package that includes Tannehill and a first- and second-round pick should be a no-brainer for the Dolphins, as long as Luck’s injured shoulder is deemed sound. The Dolphins have quality pieces in place, such as a solid defense and talented skill players on offense. Therefore, a healthy Luck under center would immediately catapult Miami into title contention next season and for the foreseeable future.
The Dolphins missed out on Luck the first time because they won six games during the “Suck for Luck” season in 2010. If they get a rare second chance to land this franchise quarterback, they should jump.
4. Draft a top quarterback
This is a Dolphins team built to win now. Drafting and playing a rookie quarterback could set the team back a couple of years, and that is not a process Miami and its coaching staff appear willing to go through. The Dolphins, at 4-2, probably won’t have a high enough draft pick to select one of the top quarterbacks anyway.
Miami is more likely to select a developmental quarterback in the middle rounds next year, with hopes of bringing that player up in the system to be ready down the road.
5. Sign Kirk Cousins or another QB free agent
The Dolphins are in a bad spot next offseason if it comes down to this.
Signing Cousins isn’t a good idea. He is similar to Tannehill in terms of talent and probably would be more expensive as a pending free agent. Why not keep the similar and cost-effective quarterback who is in-house and knows your system?