When the Dolphins signed Ryan Tannehill to a five-year, $96 million contract extension in May, they believed they had their quarterback of the future.
The Texas A&M product had shown steady improvement over his first three seasons in the NFL, and the Dolphins front office rewarded him with a hefty extension (four years, $77 million in new money) that made him the 10th highest paid quarterback in football.
Fast forward to the end of November. The Dolphins are 4-7, last in the AFC East. Injuries have plagued both the offensive and the defence. Head coach Joe Philbin was fired after a blowout loss to the Jets in London earlier this season, and offensive coordinator Bill Lazor was fired after a blowout loss to the Jets in New York on Sunday.
Perhaps most frustratingly, their supposed quarterback of the future hasn’t come anywhere close to showing the returns expected of him. So far this season, Tannehill has regressed statistically: he is completing 62.1% of his passes, boasts an 88.7 passer rating, and has thrown 11 interceptions in 11 games (last season he threw 12).
Like Tannehill himself, these numbers aren’t atrocious, they’re overwhelmingly average. And overwhelmingly average isn’t what you want in a franchise quarterback, especially not one with Tannehill’s contract.
Note that Tannehill is guaranteed $21.5 million in the first two years of his extension (2015 and 2016), and that after next season his base salary takes a big jump.
Earlier this week, Armando Salguero reported in the Miami Herald that the Dolphins coaching staff and front office are split on what to make of Tannehill. Interim head coach Dan Campbell and Lazor view him as a game manager.
“What I’ve told Ryan is, ‘I don’t need Superman.’ … I just want to make sure my message to him is don’t try to be someone you’re not,” Campbell said. “Just manage the game for us. Make the throws that are there, which he will.”
According to Salguero, Lazor limited Tannehill’s ability to call plays or make audibles from the line of scrimmage. That Lazor was fired, however, shows that Miami’s front office (who paid him in the first place) clearly still think he’s elite, and plans to rebuild the staff to reflect that.
If Tannehill continues to merely manage games, it’s unclear how much longer he’ll be a Dolphin. $21.5 million is too much money to spend on a mediocre quarterback, and getting rid of him after 2016, when his salary jumps to $18.0 million and his salary-cap hit jumps to $20.3 million, could save the team a lot of money.
The Dolphins haven’t made the playoffs since 2008, and having to potentially start from scratch at quarterback won’t help change that.
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