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Dolphins' immediate future rests with QB Ryan Tannehill


MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- There are reasons to be disappointed in a once-promising 2014 season for the Miami Dolphins, who lost 37-24 to the lowly New York Jets on Sunday and finished 8-8 for a second straight year.

The Dolphins have holes to fill on the offense line, a No. 1 receiver who isn't happy and a defense that essentially disappeared in the second half of the season. And despite Joe Philbin's vote of confidence from ownership, questions still remain if Miami has the long-term solution at head coach.

Despite all the uncertainty, there is hope at quarterback, where Ryan Tannehill at least provides hope Miami can turn it around. It's clear that the Dolphins will go only as far as Tannehill takes them in 2015 and beyond.

Tannehill had a decent, but not spectacular, game on Sunday. He threw for 259 yards and one touchdown and had an 87.4 passer rating to wrap up a career season. But he wasn't in a festive mood.

"Does it feel good to lose?" Tannehill said. "No, I hate losing. I put [in] a lot of effort, a lot of time, a lot of blood, sweat and tears."

Tannehill eventually will be able to see his progress and individual success once he studies the big picture. By all accounts, 2014 was a good year for the former first-round pick.

Here are some key statistics about Tannehill:

  • He eclipsed 4,000 passing yards for the first time in his career, becoming the first Dolphins quarterback since Hall of Famer Dan Marino to reach that single-season total. Tannehill also set a new franchise record for completions in a season (392), also passing Marino.

  • He set career-highs with 27 touchdown passes and a 92.8 passer rating. Miami's scoring also improved from 19.8 points per game in 2013 to 24.25 points per game this season.

  • He has never missed a start in three seasons, despite being sacked 139 times. "I can't even express how tough this kid is and what he goes through," Dolphins backup quarterback Matt Moore said. "Mentally, physical, it's impressive to watch him go out Sunday, play, get banged around and regroup during the week. ... I don't know if I've met anyone tougher."

Tannehill entered his third season with several questions, and he answered most of them. He learned a new offense under first-year coordinator Bill Lazor and improved within the system as the season went on. Tannehill also improved his touchdown-to-interception ratio and his play speed. A second year in Miami's offense should only make him better.

One weakness continues to be Tannehill's inconsistency throwing the deep ball. That limited the offense to some degree. But Miami cannot expect a perfect quarterback. If I were Tannehill, I would put a major offseason focus on deep balls in an effort to at least become average in that area next season.

The Dolphins have an interesting decision to make, in regards to Tannehill's contract. He has one year remaining on his rookie deal. However, the team has a option this spring that will cost approximately $15 million to keep Tannehill in 2016.

At the very least, the Dolphins should ensure that Tannehill is Miami's quarterback for the next two seasons. Otherwise, they could enter talks for a long-term contract with Tannehill at a time when even up-and-down quarterbacks such as Jay Cutler, Alex Smith, Colin Kaepernick and Andy Dalton receive huge extensions. That route would be more risky for Miami.

But Tannehill's arrow is pointing up and, therefore, so is the Dolphins'. Continued progress from Tannehill in Year 4 makes Miami a playoff contender to watch for next season.