AFC East: Ryan Tannehill

The Miami Dolphins have approximately $16.4 million in salary-cap room remaining. But the team is at the point where they are bargain hunting in free agency and preparing for the NFL draft.

Miami spent big in free agency during the first week, and that included its $47 million contract to Pro Bowl left tackle Branden Albert. But the key portion of that contract is guaranteed money, and according to ESPN Stats & Information, Albert got the second-most guaranteed money in free agency this year with $26 million.

The Dolphins clearly are heavily invested in Albert protecting the blindside of third-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill. These two players will be closely linked together in the success of Miami’s offense next season and potentially beyond. Miami allowed a franchise-record 58 quarterback sacks last season, and Albert is expected to reduce that number.

Albert has a tall task of stopping the opposing team’s best pass-rusher on a weekly basis. But he is being compensated well for his services.

Albert’s guaranteed money is only surpassed by Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd, who received $26.3 million in guaranteed money after leaving the Buffalo Bills for the New Orleans Saints this offseason. New Denver Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib was slightly behind Albert with $25.5 million in guarantees.

The 2014 season is important for many within the Miami Dolphins' organization. One of those people facing plenty of pressure to perform this upcoming season is third-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

Tannehill
Tannehill was drafted No. 8 overall in 2012. Since then he is 15-17 as a starter and has never posted a winning season. Tannehill has shown flashes of ability but has been unable to end Miami's five-year playoff drought.

ESPN NFL analyst Keyshawn Johnson caught up with Tannehill during the Adidas football shoot in Los Angeles. Tannehill knows this is an important third season to prove he's the long-term solution in Miami.

"It's huge. I have to make a big jump, I'm aware of that," Tannehill said. "I’m putting in the work, putting in the time to get myself physically ready, mentally ready and learn this new offense that we’re going with this year. So there is still work to be done.

"But I look for a big jump in myself, both in production and wins. That’s what we ultimately play for is wins. So, I’m excited to see what this team does."

The Dolphins finished 8-8 last season and missed the playoffs by one game. Tannehill and Miami's offense sputtered down the stretch and scored just seven points in the final two games. That led to the firing of offensive coordinator Mike Sherman, who was replaced by Bill Lazor.

Miami made several additions to help Tannehill in free agency. The Dolphins added Pro Bowl left tackle Branden Albert to improve pass protection and new tailback Knowshon Moreno to provide a spark in the running game.

But the Dolphins' season will sink or swim with Tannehill's development. ESPN analyst and former NFL general manager Bill Polian believes Tannehill needs to make quicker decisions.

“He needs to get the ball out of his hands more quickly to hit open receivers,” Polian said on ESPN’s “NFL Insiders” Wednesday. “In doing that it will increase passing-game efficiency and eliminate some of those league-leading 58 sacks.”

In case you missed it, here is my full column on Tannehill entering Year 3.
The Miami Dolphins invested $3 million this season in tailback Knowshon Moreno to boost their 26th-ranked running game. Due to his production last season and experience, Moreno is projected to be the Week 1 starter in Miami.

Moreno
But former longtime Indianapolis Colts general manager and ESPN analyst Bill Polian is not impressed with the signing. Polian graded Moreno as a “C” free agent.

Here were Polian’s comments on ESPN.com’s free-agent tracker:
“Solid contributor, but not a No. 1 back. I think most of his success from 2013 was a function of the system. His acceleration to the hole is the reason for the speed minus. The rest of his game is good, he just doesn't hit the big plays you need from a No. 1 RB.”

As Polian mentioned, many believe Moreno was a product of Denver Broncos’ system. He was a former first-round bust until future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning arrived in Denver. Those same large running lanes will not be there in Miami.

The Dolphins are expecting Moreno to be their No. 1 option to help third-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas could not get the job done last season. Miami is hoping at least one of those two players will improve their game in a complimentary role.

It was a tough free-agent market for running backs. Moreno is coming off a career year where he rushed for 1,038 yards and 10 touchdowns. But Moreno said he only talked to the Dolphins before signing a one-year contract last week.
The Miami Dolphins invested $3 million this season in tailback Knowshon Moreno to boost their 26th-ranked running game. Due to his production last season and experience, Moreno is projected to be the Week 1 starter in Miami.

Moreno
But former longtime Indianapolis Colts general manager and ESPN analyst Bill Polian is not impressed with the signing. Polian graded Moreno as a “C” free agent.

Here were Polian’s comments on ESPN.com’s free-agent tracker:
“Solid contributor, but not a No. 1 back. I think most of his success from 2013 was a function of the system. His acceleration to the hole is the reason for the speed minus. The rest of his game is good, he just doesn't hit the big plays you need from a No. 1 RB.”

As Polian mentioned, many believe Moreno was a product of Denver Broncos’ system. He was a former first-round bust until future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning arrived in Denver. Those same large running lanes will not be there in Miami.

The Dolphins are expecting Moreno to be their No. 1 option to help third-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas could not get the job done last season. Miami is hoping at least one of those two players will improve their game in a complimentary role.

It was a tough free-agent market for running backs. Moreno is coming off a career year where he rushed for 1,038 yards and 10 touchdowns. But Moreno said he only talked to the Dolphins before signing a one-year contract last week.
ORLANDO, Fla. – The Miami Dolphins have high expectations for their offense this upcoming season after hiring Bill Lazor from the Philadelphia Eagles. The former Eagles quarterbacks coach did a terrific job with Pro Bowler Nick Foles in Philadelphia last season.

Eagles head coach Chip Kelly met with the media Wednesday during the NFL’s owners meetings in Orlando. Kelly, who led Philadelphia to the playoffs in 2013, had high praise for Lazor.

“I think everybody’s product of what you see on the field and, obviously, Nick deserves credit because Nick’s the one who’s playing,” Kelly said. “But Billy was the guy that got him prepared to play, so I think Billy did a great job with him. I think he’s got great experience in terms of being a coordinator at the college level but has also coached with the Seahawks and the Falcons and the Redskins. … I thought it was a great opportunity for him and I think he’s going to do a really good job down there.”

Lazor has coordinator experience in college. But this is his first coordinator position in the NFL. Lazor will be in charge of the play-calling duties in Miami, as well.

The Dolphins struggled mightily on offense last season and failed to run or pass with any consistency. Miami was ranked 20th in passing and 26th in rushing.

A major part of Miami’s success will hinge on third-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who is 15-17 as a starter. Success at the quarterback position is the best chance Miami has of becoming a playoff contender. Lazor did wonders with Foles last year, and the Dolphins are hoping to have similar success with Tannehill.

“Billy’s very, very intelligent I think one of the first things that struck me when we first interviewed him was his intelligence just kind of jumps out at you,” Kelly explained. “He’s an Ivy League guy that has a great way of teaching and has great knowledge in terms of the game. He did a great job with our quarterback position.”
The Miami Dolphins will host free-agent running back Knowshon Moreno on Friday. The Dolphins have had an interesting offseason by signing several quality veterans.

Will they add Moreno to the mix? Here are thoughts on what Moreno's visit means for Miami:

    Moreno
  • Moreno's visit means the Dolphins finally admit they are searching for an upgrade at tailback. Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas did not get the job done last season as Miami was ranked 26th in rushing. Most of the blame can be pointed at the Dolphins' poor offensive line, but Miller and Thomas also didn't do their part to elude defenders or break through tackles. The Dolphins need a more dynamic player in the backfield in 2014. It can come via free agency or the draft.
  • There are reasons why Moreno isn't a hot commodity thus far in free agency. For starters, the market for running backs has cooled tremendously in recent seasons. Ben Tate, the best tailback on the market, recently got a modest contract from the Cleveland Browns. There also are questions over whether Moreno's career year in 2013 (1,038 yards, 10 touchdowns) was a product of Peyton Manning. There were a lot of open running lanes last season in Denver. Moreno was on his way to being a first-round draft bust until Manning arrived. Can he produce similar results if, for example, Ryan Tannehill is the quarterback?
  • Pass protection was a huge issue for the Dolphins last season. Miami's tailbacks failing to pick up the blitz contributed to the Dolphins setting a franchise record with 58 quarterback sacks allowed. One of Moreno's strongest assets is his pass blocking. He did a good job the past two seasons recognizing and picking up the blitz for Manning. Extra time for Tannehill to throw the football always is a good thing.
The New England Patriots' stance atop the AFC East got stronger Wednesday night as the reigning division champs signed five-time Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis. He returns to the AFC East after spending one year with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Revis dominated the division during the first six years of his career as a member of the New York Jets and was particularly good against the Dolphins.

So what does this signing mean for Miami? Here are several thoughts:
  • Revis more than fills the void left behind by cornerback Aqib Talib. Talib signed a large deal with the Denver Broncos. Revis is no longer the best cornerback in football. But he's still in the top two, just behind Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks. It's a major task for the Dolphins to face Revis twice per season. These will be big games that could determine the AFC East title, and Revis has a strong track record against Miami. He has four interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown, in nine career games. Last year Revis picked off Tannehill once in Tampa Bay's win over the Dolphins on "Monday Night Football."
  • There is a strong chance Revis will be matched up with Miami's No. 1 receiver, Mike Wallace, which is a terrific matchup. Revis has few weaknesses. But one area where he can be exposed is against receivers with elite speed. Randy Moss gave Revis trouble early in his career. That is the best chance Wallace and Miami's passing game have to consistently win against Revis.
  • New England's defense will be getting back Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo from injuries. Add Revis into the mix and you have a formidable defense for head coach Bill Belichick. The Dolphins were 27th in total offense and must find a way to beat New England in order for Miami to make the playoffs. New Dolphins offensive coordinator Bill Lazor is implementing an aggressive, up-tempo scheme and must be a better playcaller than former offensive coordinator Mike Sherman.
DAVIE, Fla. -- The Miami Dolphins held a group dinner Tuesday night following the five-year, $47 million contract signing of left tackle Branden Albert.

General manager Dennis Hickey and several Dolphins coaches attended. But there was one Dolphins player who was all smiles.

Tannehill
Albert
“Probably the happiest person at the dinner table was Ryan Tannehill,” Hickey said Wednesday during Albert’s introductory news conference. “He was really excited about the opportunity to have a player of [Albert’s] caliber on our team.”

Tannehill is smart enough to know that nothing helps a young quarterback more than rock-solid pass protection on the blind side. Tannehill didn’t get that last year in his second season. The Dolphins set a franchise record for quarterback sacks allowed with 58, which held back both Tannehill and Miami's struggling offense.

The Dolphins opened their wallet and made a huge investment on the first day of free agency to land Albert, who is a premier player at a premier position. Tannehill is entering a huge third year and better pass protection will allow the Dolphins to properly evaluate whether he can be the long-term solution.

The left tackle-quarterback relationship will be key to Miami’s success in 2014. It appears Albert and Tannehill already are developing a quick rapport.

“It’s very important; I got to protect the blind side,” Albert said. “We all know how important that is. The quarterback got to be upright to do their job, and that’s what I’m here for.”

Albert has the potential to be a difference-maker for the Dolphins. He experienced a big turnaround last season in Kansas City and hopes to continue that success in Miami this upcoming season. The Dolphins haven't been to the playoffs since 2008.

“He’s always been a targeted guy from the first day I got here,” Hickey said of Albert. “He’s the first guy coach Philbin and I sat down and watched. ... It was clear he was going to be the targeted player for us.”
Last year in free agency the Miami Dolphins were all about the flash-and-splash on offense.

Speedy receiver Mike Wallace, slot receiver Brandon Gibson and athletic tight end Dustin Keller were all part of then-general manager Jeff Ireland's plan to build Miami into an explosive, high-scoring offense. The Dolphins also re-signed 1,000-yard receiver Brian Hartline to put as many skilled receivers and tight ends around budding quarterback Ryan Tannehill as possible.

Albert
But Ireland and the Dolphins forgot one fundamental rule in the NFL: In order to have a high-powered offense, you must first protect the quarterback.

Miami did little to invest in its offensive line in 2013 and, as a result, set a franchise record for quarterback sacks allowed with 58. Despite various weapons, the Dolphins often lost in the trenches and had the NFL’s 27th-ranked offense. That was a major reason Miami finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs for the fifth consecutive year.

Tuesday’s high-profile signing of Pro Bowl left tackle Branden Albert signifies a shift in the team’s thinking. The Dolphins opened their wallets during the start of free agency and agreed to a five-year, $46 million contract with Albert, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. Miami got the best player available at the team’s weakest position: offensive line.

After another disappointing season in Miami, new general manager Dennis Hickey replaced Ireland in January and is wasting no time learning from his predecessor’s mistakes. The Dolphins must consistently win in the trenches if they want to become a playoff contender. Pairing Albert with center Mike Pouncey gives Miami two Pro Bowlers to build its offensive line around.

The Dolphins also agreed to terms with free-agent defensive tackle Earl Mitchell, according to Schefter, which fills another need in the trenches on defense following the departures of defensive linemen Paul Soliai and Randy Starks.

There is still work to be done for Miami. But it is clear the Dolphins have a plan, and this is a solid start.
Here are the most interesting Miami Dolphins stories Monday from around the Web:
  • Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald is worried about soon-to-be former guard Richie Incognito.
Morning take: Incognito has shown some very troubling behavior lately. The timing couldn’t be more awful with free agency approaching. It’s probably best for Incognito to take time away from football and get his life in order.
  • Andrew Abramson of the Palm Beach Post writes the Dolphins could have a spending spree in free agency.
Morning take: The Dolphins will have approximately $37-$40 million to spend this year in free agency. It’s a make-or-break year for head coach Joe Philbin, so Miami needs to add players.
Morning take: I agree.
  • Omar Kelly of the Sun Sentinel addresses whether or not the Dolphins need more linebacker help.
Morning take: Miami’s linebackers definitely underachieved last year. However, the Dolphins have so much money tied into their starters that it’s hard to move on.
Miami Dolphins starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill could be down to his last season to prove he's the long-term solution. Tannehill is just 15-17 in two seasons, and Year 3 could be make-or-break for the former first-round pick.

SportsNation

Based on what you've seen, is Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill the long-term solution?

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    52%
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    15%
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    33%

Discuss (Total votes: 1,843)

But it's time for ESPN.com readers to put their analyst hat on. Here is our latest "Poll Friday" question: Do you believe Tannehill is the long-term solution? Two seasons is enough to get a firm grasp on whether Tannehill is a franchise quarterback or just another Chad Henne.

We've seen plenty of flashes from Tannehill. He can make most of the throws and showed good toughness during a trying year in Miami. Tannehill was sacked a franchise-record 58 times and didn't have a consistent running game. Yet he set career highs in most statistical categories in 2013.

Or will Tannehill flame out? He's yet to lead the Dolphins to the postseason, while other quarterbacks from the 2012 class already have. Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Nick Foles all have playoff berths on their resume. Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks even has a Super Bowl ring. Can Tannehill take Miami to the next level?

Using our SportsNation poll, vote on whether Tannehill is the future quarterback in Miami. You can share your thoughts in the comment section below or send a message via Twitter @JamesWalkerNFL.
Last week, we wrote about a CBS Sports report that indicated Miami Dolphins starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill will have a shorter leash next season. According to the report, Miami head coach Joe Philbin has a lot of confidence in veteran backup Matt Moore and will be more inclined to bench Tannehill if he struggles next season.

Here are some additional thoughts on the issue:
  • Tannehill
    If the report is accurate, this is a clear indication Philbin is aware 2014 is a make-or-break season. The Dolphins never discussed pulling the plug on Tannehill before. Philbin was in the middle of his grace period and could stick with a young quarterback. Although ownership has backed him, many believe Philbin is on the hot seat if he doesn’t win in Year 3. Philbin is 15-17 in two seasons.
  • The September schedule could be huge for Tannehill and the Dolphins. Miami has the 12th-toughest strength of schedule in the NFL. So there is potential for the Dolphins to have top-flight opponents to start the season. A fast start similar to last season would certainly calm the waters. But if Tannehill gets off to a 1-3 start, for example, will that prompt Philbin to make a change? The schedule is expected to be released in April.
  • Overall, I think it’s a bad idea to put Tannehill on a short leash. Although he didn’t make the strides many expected, Tannehill did improve in nearly every major statistical category in 2013. He also did it with an awful offensive line and a poor running game. If this report is accurate, having this message out publicly in February is not good for Tannehill’s confidence. The Dolphins need to be 100-percent behind Tannehill in order to get the best out of him in 2014.

Strength of schedule: Miami Dolphins

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The 2014 season will be a year of no excuses for the Miami Dolphins. It could be a make-or-break season for many in Miami, including third-year head coach Joe Philbin and third-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill. The Dolphins finished 8-8 in 2013 and in third place in the AFC East.

Next season Miami must thrive against the 12th-toughest strength of schedule in the NFL. It includes six games against playoff teams from last season. The Dolphins will play the rival New England Patriots twice, the San Diego Chargers, Green Bay Packers, Kansas City Chiefs and the reigning AFC champion Denver Broncos. None of these games will be easy.

Miami also faces a unique challenge next season: traveling to London to face the Oakland Raiders on Sept. 28. The long travel could have an adverse effect on the Dolphins if the team isn’t well-prepared. Miami is expected to have an early bye after the London trip, so the team can get its schedule back to normal.

However, one of Miami’s biggest issues has been winning in the AFC East. The Dolphins are just 4-8 against division opponents the past two seasons under Philbin. He must change that in 2014 if he wants to prove he is the long-term solution in Miami. Philbin is just 15-17 in his first two seasons.

Morning take: Zack Martin to Miami?

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Here are the most interesting Miami Dolphins stories Monday from around the Web:
  • The Dolphins team site examines the projection by ESPN's Mel Kiper that the Dolphins will take Notre Dame offensive lineman Zack Martin at No. 19 overall.
Morning take: Martin has versatility at guard and tackle, and the Dolphins need both. Martin also has natural leadership ability, which is needed in Miami.
  • Charlie McCarthy of Fox Sports Florida expects the Dolphins to look at more options in the secondary.
Morning take: I expect Pro Bowl cornerback Brent Grimes to return. But there could be a hole at safety and another cornerback spot. The Dolphins may not re-sign starting safety Chris Clemons or keep cornerback Dimitri Patterson at his high salary.
  • Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald reports the Dolphins coaching staff expects more from rookie cornerback Jamar Taylor in 2014.
Morning take: Taylor was a second-round pick last year who had a redshirt season, due to various ailments. But Taylor was a highly-touted prospect who will get another shot.
  • Omar Kelly of the Sun Sentinel wonders if the Dolphins should add competition for starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
Morning take: There was a recent report that suggested backup Matt Moore could push Tannehill this year. That remains to be seen. But I think the organization should be 100 percent behind Tannehill so that he has the best chance to succeed.
CBS Sports national NFL reporter Jason La Canfora wrote a column on the Miami Dolphins Friday with several interesting nuggets. But perhaps the most intriguing note comes at the quarterback position.

Tannehill
La Canfora reports Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin told general manager candidates during interviews that Tannehill could be on a shorter leash in 2014. A source indicated Philbin wants to have more competition at quarterback to push Tannehill, and Philbin won’t be afraid to make a change next season if needed.

Both Philbin and Tannehill are 15-17 in Miami and enter a crucial Year 3 together. Here is what La Canfora wrote about the situation.
Philbin's job is riding on Tannehill progressing. I wouldn't doubt a little more pressure from highly paid back–up Matt Moore ($4M salary; $5.5M in cap) in 2014, with Philbin professing his belief in Moore to several of the GM candidates and demanding more from Tannehill.

"He definitely wants to push Tannehill more," said one source who has spoken to Philbin about the quarterbacks, "and if he doesn't see improvement he said he might go to Moore at some point. He definitely has a lot of faith in Moore, and they're paying him a lot of money."

If the report is accurate, I think it’s bad news for Tannehill and the Dolphins to have discussions about a shorter leash in February. Moore clearly is not the long-term solution in Miami, and benching Tannehill would only be a panic move. Tannehill is the best quarterback option the Dolphins have and has the higher ceiling.

It’s still too early to say whether Tannehill is the answer in Miami. But the organization must be 100-percent behind Tannehill this season in order to provide him the best chance to succeed.

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