Ryan Tannehill era in Miami a story of what could have been

The Dolphins selected quarterback Ryan Tannehill with the No. 8 overall pick in the 2012 draft. Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports

DAVIE, Fla. -- Ryan Tannehill stood at the lectern after the Miami Dolphins' season-ending blowout loss in Buffalo with a look in his eyes that indicated he knew it was over.

The media, the fan base, even coach Adam Gase -- who would be fired less than 24 hours later -- knew it was over.

The Tannehill era had run its course and Miami couldn't afford to wait any longer for the veteran quarterback and 2012 first-round draft pick to develop. The Dolphins made the decision official by trading him to the Tennessee Titans on Friday. Miami gets a fourth-round draft pick in 2020 and a seventh-rounder in 2019, while Tennessee gets Tannehill and a sixth-round pick in 2019, sources told ESPN.

Many Dolphins fans will cheer Tannehill's exit, but this is a time to reflect on an era defined by untapped potential, inconsistency and overall mediocrity.

Tannehill, 30, is a good guy who did everything he could to be the quarterback Miami badly wanted except two of the most important things -- stay healthy and win games.

Tannehill ended his career in Miami ranking in the top five among Dolphins quarterbacks in passing touchdowns, yards, interceptions, passer rating and games started. However, the Tannehill era will be remembered for what it wasn't: the answer to a Dolphins quarterback question that has lingered since the Dan Marino era. The Dolphins have gone a NFL-record 23 consecutive seasons without a Pro Bowl quarterback since Marino last got the honor in 1995, per Elias Sports Bureau.

Still, Tannehill can't be cast as a bad pick or even a mistake. Looking back at the 2012 draft, Tannehill winds up as somewhere between the third- and fifth-best QB selected, depending on how you look at the overall success of Kirk Cousins and Nick Foles.

But the Tannehill era feels incomplete even at its overdue ending because of what could have been. Coming out of Texas A&M, the talk was all about Tannehill's physical attributes -- his rare athleticism, his throwing power and accuracy. He flashed some of that throughout his pro career, but consistency was an issue. The potential, however, remained tantalizing.

Even midway through the Dolphins' 2018 season, Gase said of Tannehill, "He has some rare qualities that you can't find in a lot of guys physically. The more that he keeps playing, he keeps learning game to game. That's something to me that puts him in position to where, where's our ceiling at? I don't think we're close to it."

Ultimately, Tannehill's ceiling might have been exactly what we saw on the field.

Tannehill went 42-46 as an NFL starter with a 62.8 percent completion rate, 20,434 passing yards, 123 touchdowns and 75 interceptions. Those stats put him somewhere between mediocrity and slightly above average -- good enough to start, but not good enough to compete for a Super Bowl title.

He likely had his worst NFL season in 2018 when you look deeper at the numbers. Tannehill finished 2018 with the second-lowest Total QBR (35.4) in the NFL, ahead of only rookie Josh Rosen, and Tannehill's 27-percent completion rate on passes at least 20 yards downfield in 2018 was the third-worst among qualified QBs, ahead of only Sam Darnold and Joe Flacco.

Tannehill was an iron man early in his career, starting 77 consecutive games. He was sacked more than any other quarterback during the 2013 season -- a whopping 58 times. In 2015, the Miami Herald reported that Tannehill urinated blood after a game and still decided to play the next week. Toughness was never an issue, but eventually the injuries mounted.

A knee sprain, then a fully torn ACL cost him the end of his 2016 season as well as the entire 2017 season. A shoulder capsule injury cost him five games in 2018. It's hard to commit to a great quarterback who misses 24 games over three seasons, and it's even harder for a quarterback who has yet to fully prove what he is as a player.

Don't feel badly for Tannehill. This is part of the job as a NFL starting quarterback and he was paid handsomely. Tannehill has made more than $67 million in his seven seasons in Miami, and he's guaranteed another $7 million on his 2019 contract with Tennessee.

The Dolphins will still feel the pain of Tannehill on their salary cap with a dead cap charge of $18.4 million in 2019, which includes the $5 million signing bonus they paid him to lessen the financial burden for Tennessee in order to execute the trade.

A former Dolphins coach on the 2018 staff told ESPN this month that he still didn't have a clear evaluation on Tannehill. He also noted that the coaches' biggest mistake was failing to develop a quarterback behind Tannehill and failing to give him adequate competition.

The Dolphins are facing the consequences of those mistakes now, and it's one of the reasons they are undergoing such a stark rebuild. Miami is left scrapping for veteran quarterbacks who are turning down the team's offers -- look no further than Teddy Bridgewater.

Now Miami's quarterback roster features Luke Falk and Jake Rudock, two quarterbacks who have combined for five NFL passes. The Dolphins will likely add a veteran, but the focus here is evaluating the talent on the roster and eventually finding their franchise quarterback in the draft in 2019 or 2020.

One day, fans will be able to look back on the Tannehill era and remember the good things, such as his role in the Miami Miracle win against New England in 2018. But for now, the Tannehill era feels familiar to Dolphins fans: full of untapped potential and mediocrity.