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QB Stock Watch: It’s Prove-It Time for Ryan Tannehill in Miami

The Dolphins have a big decision to make with their up-and-down franchise quarterback, and the next three games—which could get Miami back in the playoff picture—will be a window in which to evaluate whether to keep him in 2019 or move on.

Welcome to QB Stock Watch. This is the third in a series running for the remainder of this season analyzing some of the league’s most difficult, and intriguing, quarterback decisions to be made for 2019 and beyond.

Current contract situation: Tannehill, a first-round pick (eighth overall) of Miami in 2012, is in the fourth year of a six-year, $95.272 million deal signed in 2015. The Dolphins have been steadfast in their support of Tannehill despite a coaching change in 2015. Adam Gase has been passionate in his defense of Tannehill, but the Dolphins will speak with their wallets this offseason. Outside of waiting another calendar year to cut him, Miami can get out of Tannehill’s deal in March without a brutal cap hit (though $13.4 million is nothing to shake a stick at). The Dolphins might also ask him to take a pay cut, though that isn’t in Tannehill’s best interest. When healthy, he could probably still compete for a handful of starting jobs around the league.

2018 season: Tannehill missed a little more than a month with shoulder problems in his throwing arm. When he’s healthy, he’s played fairly well—like, replacement level well. In his six games this year the Dolphins are 3-3, with Tannehill going 102-154 for 1,176 yards, 10 touchdowns and five interceptions. This underscores the frustration of the Tannehill era for many Dolphins fans, who have seen episodes of steady quarterbacking blended with unfortunate, momentum-stopping injuries and the occasional boneheaded play. Two years ago Tannehill had the Dolphins at 8-5 before spraining his knee and missing the final three games and the wild-card loss to Pittsburgh. His numbers that season were solid but not spectacular—a 93.5 rating, with a TD to INT differential of 19-12. He missed all of 2017 with an ACL tear suffered in the preseason.

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What to expect for the rest of the season: This is, without a doubt, the final evaluation period for Tannehill. The Dolphins are 5-6 and, according to FiveThirtyEight, increase their playoff odds to 46 percent if they win their next three games. Their opponents? Buffalo at home, New England at home and Minnesota on the road. You might say that it’s a difficult spot to put Tannehill in, but what better window through which to measure your franchise quarterback? The odds are against him, the pressure is on and the first two of those three teams are divisional opponents who have the book on him. Like Gase, I’m not encouraging the Dolphins to throw away Tannehill after this season just yet. I think there’s enough he can do within that offense—but there will need to be some late-season magic in 2018 and a willingness to do something about a gargantuan cap hit in 2019.

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Will he be on the same team next season: The bottom line: Tannehill will have the sixth-highest cap hit among NFL quarterbacks in 2019 should he remain on his current deal—behind only Drew Brees, Matthew Stafford, Kirk Cousins, Andrew Luck and Tom Brady. That, simply, cannot happen. Teams are winning with replacement=level arms, but the advantage is that they are A) either on their rookie deal, or B) on a mid-level contract that isn’t cost-prohibitive. Gase is in a tough spot. As of now, most draft-watchers say there is nothing spectacular coming down the pike for 2019, and cutting Tannehill carries some dead-money implications. Keeping him and forcing him to battle for the job also hamstrings the team in terms of the quality of competition they can bring in. My gut tells me the Dolphins will release Tannehill and move on, but it will depend on how their overtures go with other free-agent quarterbacks—or veterans who can be pried loose via trade.

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