One of the most inconvenient truths of the NFL, whether in-season or during training camp as we are now, is that injuries happen. Indeed, significant injuries happen, and they can strike anyone including the seemingly irreplaceable players on the roster, such as the starting quarterback.
This is the situation the Miami Dolphins have found themselves in after quarterback Ryan Tannehill went down with an left knee injury in Thursday’s practice, just months removed from Tannehill suffering a partially-torn ACL and damaged MCL in the same knee. Tannehill opted against surgery for the first injury, and was told by a battery of physicians (including Dolphins team doctor John Uribe and famed sports surgeon Dr. James Andrews) that rest, rehabilitation and stem-cell treatments would be the best course of action. While there are many questions surrounding the soundness of this advice and whether Tannehill would have been better off having gotten the surgery in the early days of the 2017 offseason, the immediate concern, from a Dolphins’ team standpoint, is what they will do at the quarterback position going forward.
Though the immediate solution is simply pivoting to backup Matt Moore, who has been with the Dolphins since 2011 and has survived through four coaching regimes and predates Tannehill’s arrival, that may only be a stop-gap option for summer’s camp. Especially when the Cleveland Browns may just possess the passer the Dolphins may be looking for to take up the starting job for the 2017 season.
Brock Osweiler, whom the Browns acquired in a trade with the Houston Texans in March, has a Dolphins connection by way of Miami’s head coach Adam Gase, who served as Osweiler’s quarterbacks coach with the Denver Broncos in 2012 and his offensive coordinator in 2013 and 2014. And Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com has already asked Osweiler on Friday if the Miami job has landed on his radar. However, the 26-year old isn’t necessarily taking the bait in the public realm, deflecting the idea by saying, "Those decisions are for Sashi Brown and Hue Jackson to make. Right now, all I can worry about, all I can focus on is going inside, watching the tape of the walk-through, getting focused to come out here and have a great practice.”
Upon the Browns’ acquisition of Osweiler—which has been repeatedly reported was all about getting the Texans’ 2018 second-round draft pick rather than the quarterback himself—the trade rumors were immediate. The Browns have been both willing and able to take on $10 million of Osweiler’s $16 million 2017 fully-guaranteed salary as part of a trade package, given they receive a third-round draft pick as part of the return compensation. There have been no takers, though there have also been few perfect-seeming fits like the Dolphins for Osweiler’s services.
But there is another Gase familiar who is also apparently in the running to take over for Tannehill granted Tannehill has to (and likely does) require knee reconstruction: Jay Cutler, who recently reluctantly retired from the NFL and is currently collecting his paychecks from FOX Sports as a football analyst. The Miami Herald’s Armando Salguero reports that the Dolphins have been in contact with Cutler, and league insider Benjamin Albright said on Friday afternoon that talks between the two have been “picking up steam.” Cutler was Gase’s quarterback when Gase served as the Chicago Bears’ offensive coordinator in 2015.
In an apples-to-apples comparison, there are reasons why the Dolphins could pursue either Cutler or Osweiler or choose to stick with Moore. Moore is the long-time backup and one of the higher-quality No. 2 quarterbacks in the league. Cutler and Osweiler (given the Browns are still willing to eat $10 million on the latter as they were months previous) would cost about the same for the Dolphins to pick up on a one-year basis, with Osweiler having more familiarity with Gase and Cutler, the experience edge.
On talent alone, deciding between the three is somewhat of a wash; now, it’s about the quarterback the Dolphins and Gase prefer to have fill in for Tannehill, as a matter of taste. None are the perfect solution to this problem, but but are rather just The Available Ones: Non-Colin Kaepernick Division (though, as an aside, Kaepernick is probably the best option but also one the Dolphins seemingly are not choosing to explore). Both are inconsistent players, one younger, one older, with upsides that basically start and end at the Gase familiarity factor and actual NFL starting experience. And those are also traits Moore possesses, which means that if the Dolphins choose to stick with him, what they need is a backup for Moore and not a starter, likely taking both Osweiler and Cutler off the table as roster options.
Fiscally speaking, there’s no reason why the Dolphins would shy away from Osweiler. But if Miami turns to a willing Cutler or decides Moore is worth sticking with, then realistic trade partners for Osweiler are starting to dry up for the Browns. That means the Browns may end up having no choice but to keep Osweiler on the roster as the highest-paid backup passer in the league for 2017.