Less than a week before their preseason opener, the Dolphins may find themselves on the hunt for a starting quarterback.
Ryan Tannehill, whose 2016 season ended prematurely when he suffered a partial tear of his left ACL, reinjured the same knee on a noncontact play in Thursday’s practice. ESPN's Adam Schefter reported late Thursday night that the Dolphins “fear Tannehill will need season-ending ... surgery,” with a final call to come soon.
The injury occurred as Tannehill scrambled to his right during an 11-on-11 drill. He planted his left leg to make a cut near the sideline, then crumpled to the turf.
The approach Tannehill took to recover following his partial ACL injury in 2016 was the subject of much discussion. Rather than undergo surgery to repair the ligament, he opted for stem cell therapy and rehab. Tannehill had declared himself healthy at the start of camp.
“The knee is really good. It feels really good,” he said last week, per ESPN.com. “I haven’t had any changes since the spring. I was a full participant in the spring and still going really well."
The plot changed on Thursday. According to Schefter, Tannehill and the Dolphins are facing two options: surgery that would end his season, or a rest-and-hope plan that would sideline Tannehill for at least six weeks.
Either way, the Dolphins would head into the regular season without their starting QB. Miami managed to go 2-1 to close out the regular season in his absence last season, with backup Matt Moore notching wins over the Jets and Bills to help clinch a playoff spot. But the Dolphins' postseason stay was short, as they were routed by the Steelers in the wild-card round.
Moore, who turns 33 on Aug. 9, would be the immediate choice to step in again. Despite his decent relief work last season, he still constitutes a tangible drop-off from Tannehill. He hasn’t been a full-time starter in the NFL since 2011, the year before Miami drafted Tannehill.
But if not Moore, then what are the Dolphins' other options? Among the most obvious:
• Jay Cutler: He's retired from football and currently employed as a FOX Sports broadcaster, but current Miami coach Adam Gase was Cutler's offensive coordinator in Chicago in 2015. That relationship almost demands that the Dolphins give Cutler a call, just to see where he’s at mentally and physically. Cutler threw for 3,659 yards, 21 touchdowns and 11 INTs during the '15 campaign.
• Tony Romo: Like Cutler, he called it quits after the 2016 season and went into the broadcast booth (CBS). Health concerns drove the 36-year-old QB into retirement, so a return would be shocking. But Romo would be free to sign in Miami, since the Cowboys released him earlier this offseason.
• Colin Kaepernick: Nary a quarterback opening has sprung up this offseason without some mention of Kaepernick being an option. Would Miami welcome him? Last August, Kaepernick came under fire for sporting a Fidel Castro T-shirt, then he later defended Castro's education policies on a conference call with Miami reporters—the city is home to a large Cuban population. (There’s also highly debated matter of Kaepernick’s national anthem protest last season.)
On the football side, however, NBC Sports’ Matt Maiocco tweeted that Gase, when he interviewed for the 49ers’ coaching job in 2015, actually “had an offensive plan ready with Colin Kaepernick.” If nothing else, Gase should have some familiarity with the free-agent quarterback.
• Robert Griffin III: A forgotten man in the QB market, Griffin could be a relatively cheap fallback option. His athletic ability might even appeal to Gase, whose system provides opportunities for quarterbacks to make things happen with their feet. Unfortunately, Griffin has had no luck staying healthy himself. Turning from one injured player to an oft-injured free agent doesn't seem wise.
• A trade: This is the desperation route Minnesota took after Teddy Bridgewater fell late last August. The Dolphins have almost an extra calendar month's worth of time to address their situation, so perhaps they could find friendlier terms (the Vikings dealt a 2017 first-round and a 2018 conditional fourth-round pick to Philadelphia for Sam Bradford). If Bridgewater were further along in his own injury recovery, the Vikings might consider dealing him or Bradford. The uncertain timeline for Bridgewater's full return probably prevents any movement by Minnesota.
Hard to say for sure, but Kirk Cousins and Alex Smith jump out from amongst the current NFL starters. Cousins again is playing out a season on the franchise tag, while Smith's time with the Chiefs is dwindling after Patrick Mahomes’s arrival. Either Washington or Kansas City would be all but waving the white flag on 2017 by dealing its starting QB, though, so count this as very unlikely. (Washington's No. 1 QB in the event of a Cousins trade would be Colt McCoy, with young Nate Sudfeld as the backup.)
Brock Osweiler is another potential possibility, at least in theory. The Browns still have him hanging around their own quarterback derby, along with Cody Kessler and DeShone Kizer, after absorbing Osweiler's contract from Houston. He, too, has a history with Gase—Osweiler was still in Denver when Gase as an assistant there. Gase has praised Osweiler in the past, and at the Super Bowl 50 media night Osweiler called Gase “one of the most brilliant minds in football.” Is Osweiler enough of an upgrade over Moore, while carrying his $16 million price tag?
Kicking the tires on Jimmy Garoppolo or A.J. McCarron also could be a possibility, although the former looks destined to stay put no matter what. McCarron, who is under contract with the Bengals through 2018, has been the subject of trade rumors in the past.
Tannehill's contract could be of consideration moving forward, as well. If the knee injury turns out to be significant, that would make two in a brief span. The Dolphins have him locked up through 2020, but they can save upwards of $15 million in cap space by cutting him after this season.