Quarterback choice will determine Dolphins' direction in 2018

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Miami Dolphins starting quarterback Jay Cutler scrambled to his left on third down Sunday afternoon and nearly threw an interception that was dropped by the Buffalo Bills on the opening drive.

Cutler's throw turned out to be his final play of the season -- and possibly his career -- as the 12-year veteran was pulled for backup quarterback David Fales in Miami's 22-16 loss to the Buffalo Bills.

It was a fitting end to a wild year at quarterback for the Dolphins that began with Ryan Tannehill suffering a season-ending knee injury during the first week of training camp. Cutler replaced Tannehill to the tune of a one-year, $10 million contract that failed to pay dividends, and backups Matt Moore (two starts) and Fales also saw time under center for Miami.

The end result was an ugly, 6-10 season the Dolphins would like to forget. However, Dolphins owner Stephen Ross remains confident in the current power structure, led by coach Adam Gase, moving forward.

"Adam is really a good football guy and I believe in him," Ross said in the locker room after the game. "He is as disappointed as I am. I talk to him a lot and I think he recognizes we got to make adjustments and we will."

The good news is Miami can officially turn the page now to 2018. Once the team takes an honest look at the roster, the Dolphins must decide whether to completely rebuild or competitively rebuild.

There are plenty of questions, but none bigger than the team's future decision at quarterback.

The smart move would be to hedge their bets by bringing back Tannehill, who will be 30 in July, as the expected starter and draft a top college quarterback in the first two rounds. This is a deep year for quality quarterback prospects, where talented throwers such as Louisville's Lamar Jackson and Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield could be had outside the top five picks.

Tannehill, who is on the books for $17.5 million next season, can get one year to prove he's as good or better than he was in 2016 while a highly touted rookie waits behind him and learns the NFL game as more of a long-term play.

The Dolphins also could put all their trust in Tannehill and use their top draft picks and resources to fix other needs. That would fall under the category of a "competitive rebuild." It's a route Miami often takes with questionable results.

Miami was a playoff team last season and many internally think they can get back. Perhaps quality upgrades in a few spots like tight end, guard and linebacker could put the Dolphins back in contention -- as long as Tannehill returns as an effective quarterback.

But what we know is Cutler is unlikely to return. Recently Cutler said he has no desire to be a backup in 2018, which hurts his chances in Miami and many places. His one series Sunday felt like a nod off into the sunset by Gase for a quarterback he coached for two different teams and convinced to come out of retirement to try to save the Dolphins' season.

The Dolphins need quarterback stability in 2018 to avoid a similar fate.