Brian Flores lauds Kyler Murray, noncommittal on Ryan Tannehill

INDIANAPOLIS — The biggest unknown surrounding the Miami Dolphins — who will be the 2019 starting quarterback — is a topic heating up at the NFL scouting combine.

The most intriguing player in the 2019 NFL draft in April is Heisman-winning Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray. The Dolphins seem a prime contender to draft a franchise quarterback, if they value him enough to get him.

Dolphins coach Brian Flores has watched a good number of the quarterbacks in this draft and termed them a “good group.” He also noted that the team plans to meet with a group of quarterbacks this week, a significant part of their evaluations, but he had special praise when asked about Murray.

“He had a phenomenal year this year,” Flores said. “I think he’s a great athlete. I think he’s a very good player.”

On the other end of the spectrum, Miami is at a crossroads with longtime starter Ryan Tannehill.

Dolphins general manager Chris Grier said he had a conversation last week with Flores, offensive coordinator Chad O’Shea and assistant head coach/QB coach Jim Caldwell about Tannehill. It has been expected for weeks that Miami would move on from Tannehill. Wednesday, Flores and Grier were noncommittal about the veteran’s standing with the team. Their lack of conviction spoke volumes.

“We haven’t made any final decisions. Everything is on the table. Chris and I are aligned on that,” Flores said. “Again, we’ve talked about the types of guys we want in our program.

“Obviously we’ve made some evaluations, but we’ve still got time to make those decisions. Having played against Ryan, he’s had some success against me personally — I think of the last game we played [the Miami Miracle]. He’s done a really good job, but those things are in process right now.”

Tannehill is the only quarterback the Dolphins have drafted before the seventh round over the past seven seasons. One of Adam Gase’s mistakes as Dolphins coach was failing to select and develop a quarterback to compete with or play behind Tannehill. So now the quarterback cupboard is bare in Miami.

The biggest issue with Tannehill has been his inability to stay healthy. He missed 25 games over the past three seasons. Miami hasn’t gotten a good evaluation of Tannehill and has continued to wait on him to be something different than he has been so far.

Tannehill’s $26.6 million cap hit and $18.7 million base salary ranks in the top 10 among NFL players in 2019 right now. If Miami decides to cut Tannehill before June 1, the Dolphins can save $13.2 million against the cap while carrying a $13.4 million dead-cap hit. The Dolphins would save $18.7 million in cap space if he was designated as a post-June 1 cut, and the dead money would be split between the 2019 and 2020 salary caps. None of the remaining money on Tannehill’s deal is guaranteed.

Owner Stephen Ross made clear that the Dolphins were going to take a different approach in 2019. Although Grier reiterated Wednesday that the Dolphins won’t tank, moving on from Tannehill would qualify as a different approach.

“We’re getting there, and once we make a decision organizational-wise, we’ll move forward,” Grier said of Tannehill.

Again, the lack of commitment on Tannehill speaks volumes — particularly because Grier was “very confident” that star cornerback Xavien Howard would be a Dolphin in 2019 and noted he wanted pending free agent Ja’Wuan James back.

If the Dolphins do move on from Tannehill via trade or release, they would need a replacement. Nick Foles will become a free agent. Miami native Teddy Bridgewater is set to be available in free agency, too. But the draft — whether in 2019 or 2020 — seems like the best bet for Miami to find its next long-term quarterback. That’s why the next two months, particularly in regard to Murray, will be so important.

“We want them smart, we want them tough, mentally and physically, you want them fundamentally sound, we want them to be able to play under pressure,” Flores said. “We want to be able to coach them hard. This is a demanding league, so we’ve gotta be demanding on our players. They need to understand that.”

Murray is competing with Dwayne Haskins to be the top quarterback selected in the draft. The Dolphins don’t pick until No. 13, so they might need to trade up if they want to acquire him.

Height and weight have seemingly been the biggest question marks for Murray, a speedy playmaker who recently chose the NFL over the MLB, but Grier says interviews, intelligence and intangibles will help him decide who fits in Miami.

Speculation will continue to rage on, but we are starting to learn how the Dolphins feel about some of the quarterbacks who will define the future of the franchise that drafts them in two months.

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