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Ryan Tannehill to the Bengals: Why it makes sense

The Bengals are in the process of resetting their franchise, which makes whoever their quarterback is now all but irrelevant.

Jacksonville Jaguars v Miami Dolphins Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

185 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions, a completion percentage of 57.14% and an adjusted yards per attempt of 3.29.

That was the stat-line for Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill when he played the Cincinnati Bengals back in Week 5 of last season. The Dolphins lost 17-27 in large part because of the Bengals’ pass rush getting to Tannehill towards the end of the game. If you’re a Bengals fan, you surely didn’t turn that game off thinking “I’d prefer that guy over Andy Dalton.”

But what if the Bengals didn’t think that cut and dry? What if they had bigger things in mind?

NFL insider Benjamin Allbright (who is more often right than he is wrong) gave his thoughts on a possible reunion with Tannehill and his former quarterbacks coach Zac Taylor, who will soon become the Bengals’ next head coach. Initially, the thought of Tannehill replacing Dalton is far from a promising one. Tannehill and Dalton belong in roughly the same tier of quarterbacks when comparing them on a league-wide scale. Nothing about Tannehill’s game is significantly more superior or inferior to Dalton, so why would the Bengals want him?

Because that doesn’t matter. And for their situation, it shouldn’t.

Like it or not, the Taylor era is probably going to be a reset for this franchise. When that reset button is officially pressed, we don’t know, but it’s going to happen sooner or later. It may’ve already happened.

For the last few years, the Bengals have been trying to re-tool their team under Marvin Lewis and Andy Dalton to keep a faint championship window open. Eventually, they came to the realization that the window has been closed, and are now working on opening a new one.

That window won’t open in 2019. Tannehill would not be a part of that window, but neither would Dalton. So why bring Tannehill in?

Future assets.

The Bengals will not trade for Tannehill. The only reason Tannehill could possibly be linked to the Bengals is because his future with the Dolphins is cloudy at best. However, if they were to sign Tannehill after his potential release, they would surely try to trade Dalton away, and will probably succeed in doing so.

The market for Dalton is not an easy one to predict, but one thing’s for sure: with the way his career is trending — the sooner they trade him, the better.

With all that in mind, the difference between starting Tannehill and starting Dalton yields (presumably) a couple of high-round draft picks. And what’s the point of acquiring those draft picks? Using them to get Tannehill’s replacement, of course.

In short, we are dealing with two simple truths:

  1. The Bengals don’t like to trade up often
  2. If you want a quarterback in the first round and you don’t have the first pick, you pretty much have to trade up to get him

With their current roster, the Bengals are not in a position to become the worst team in the NFL. They are far from the best, but they’re just too talented to win less than five games. The only way for them to get the quarterback they want in a future draft class is to trade up for him, because that’s the reality of the NFL now. The best chance they have of doing that is if they have an overstock of draft picks to do so. Trading away Dalton will likely not get them all the assets they need to eventually trade up, but it would be a very good start.

Essentially, Dalton (or Tannehill) is going to be the bridge quarterback for the next couple of seasons. If it happens to be Tannehill, the connection with Taylor makes sense, as Taylor was with him in his first four seasons in Miami. Taylor instituting the early stages of his regime and offense with a quarterback he’s familiar with (and who’s not that different from Dalton talent-wise) is a plausible outcome to ponder.

Another factor to consider is Tannehill being competent enough to distribute the ball around the field just as well as Dalton does. With the same kind of quarterback in place, they could fairly evaluate the talent around him going forward. He won’t win you many games, but at least they could see if guys like John Ross and Josh Malone are worth keeping around. They won’t see that if Jeff Driskel is starting, even though he could tank the team much more successfully.

And you don’t have to accept the fact that Tannehill is roughly the same quarterback as Dalton. Based off this past season, you may think he’s a significant downgrade, that’s fine. That’s your right.

Given Tannehill’s age and lack of upside at 30 years of age, he would obviously not become the future for the Bengals.

But neither is Dalton, which is the whole point.

We don’t have to get too entrenched in the idea of Tannehill coming to Cincinnati because numerous things would have to occur for that to happen. The Dolphins would have to eat $13.4 million in dead money if they were to release him before June 1st. If that transpires, the Bengals would have to find a suitor for Dalton (cough-cough-Redskins-cough) that will give them appropriate assets, preferably a 2020 draft pick or two. Maybe these things happens, maybe they don’t. It’s the offseason. Crazy stuff goes down!

The Bengals can trot Andy Dalton out on the field for the next two seasons and get the same results they’ve always gotten. They could also bring in a new version of him and probably get the same results, or worse.

Only one of those strategies will help them acquire the quarterback we’re ultimately going to judge the Zac Taylor era on.