The Miami Dolphins find themselves in a complicated, complex situation at the quarterback position -- one that will take time to figure out but ultimately likely won't get much easier. And it all comes back to one daunting question:
How much does Ryan Tannehill trust his left knee?
The good news: A noncontact injury during practice Thursday led to an MRI on Tannehill's left knee that did not show any full tears that would necessitate surgery, team sources said. The bad news: The results did show a setback, even if the extent is debatable.
And while the team continues to await more test results on the quarterback's knee -- one in which he initially sprained the ACL and MCL last December, but did not need surgery -- team officials still realize it might be the best long-term solution to have Tannehill undergo a procedure that would fully repair the partially torn ligaments. Such a scenario probably would end his season, and team sources say that scenario remains on the table.
In an ideal time frame, the Dolphins could take a few weeks to slow-play this decision. But with five weeks to go before their regular-season opener, the team will face a plethora of possibilities, some of which might require a faster move than others.
One example: Sources said that Jay Cutler would be willing to delay his broadcast career at Fox to play for Dolphins coach Adam Gase, who helped him revitalize his career when he was the QB's offensive coordinator with the Bears in 2015. But Cutler plans to consider such a move only if he gets the chance to be the full-time starter (and get starter money) for the entire season. (Cutler views this as the only practical QB job he'd consider at this point, sources said.)
Sources, meanwhile, said Cutler is the one who has the initial interest in playing for Gase, and the Dolphins have not yet gone down that road. For now, they are maintaining patience and continuing to treat Tannehill as their 2017 starter. But they would seemingly need to make the call on Cutler (and ultimately Tannehill) sooner than later to get Cutler into camp.
The Dolphins do have a competent backup in Matt Moore, who took over first-team reps for the remainder of Thursday's practice after Tannehill was hurt. But Moore was prone to some big hits last season that could make him vulnerable to injury, as well.
That brings up another option: If the team wants more time to contemplate Tannehill's health, it could turn the job over to Moore in the short term and sign a veteran backup, such as Colin Kaepernick, as a budget-friendly player with experience.
Sources told ESPN's Josina Anderson that Kaepernick's name also has been brought up within the Dolphins' front office as potential insurance at the position. Miami owner Steve Ross has shown in recent years to be very open-minded regarding social issues, defending the choices of some Dolphins players last season when they chose to join Kaepernick by taking a knee during the national anthem. Gase, too, is known as a player's coach willing to maintain an open mind on off-the-field beliefs.
Tannehill is coming off his best, most efficient season in 2016, going 8-5 as a starter with a career-best 93.5 passer rating before he suffered the season-ending injury on Dec. 11. Moore went 2-2 while filling in for Tannehill, who didn't require surgery.
"I just saw him kind of buckle and go down. I didn't see any details," offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen said of Tannehill's injury Thursday. "... There was no contact on the play. That was all I really saw."
Said tight end MarQueis Gray: "I saw it, but I have no idea what the outcome will be. We're just praying for him. We don't know what's going to happen."
This is another key injury for the Dolphins in the first week of training camp. Pro Bowl running back Jay Ajayi suffered a concussion during Monday's practice and is in the concussion protocol.
In addition, starting left guard Ted Larsen suffered a biceps injury Thursday and was expected to miss at least several weeks of the regular season, according to multiple reports.
"The initial reaction is just be the next man up," Christensen said of Tannehill's injury. "You gotta keep going. You gotta keep guys going and you can't let the air go out of practice. That's football. [Injuries] are going to happen somewhere in this season. It's going to happen somewhere in this game."
Information from ESPN's James Walker and Adam Schefter was used in this report.