The Miami Dolphins signed quarterback Ryan Tannehill to a six-year contract in 2015, appearing to lock down the man they regard as their franchise quarterback through the 2020 season. However, that contract essentially becomes three one-year deals after the 2017 season, when the guaranteed money in drops to just the remaining pro-rated signing bonus (until the fifth day of each league year). The Dolphins could escape a large salary cap hit if they were to release Tannehill, and it is something that fans and the media have been discussing.
And it makes no sense.
Yes, Tannehill’s salary cap number is $19.8 million in 2018 - $500,000 less than this year - and then jumps to $21.05 million in 2019 before a $19.5 million number in his final year of the deal in 2020. Those are high numbers. Overthecap.com respectively lists those numbers as 11.1 percent, 11.1 percent, and 9.8 percent of the anticipated salary caps each of those season. That is a lot of money for a quarterback who has twice had season ending knee injuries.
At least, that is how ESPN’s James Walker has described Tannehill’s knee issues in an article this morning. Except, it really was not back-to-back season ending knee injuries. It was one knee injury that cost Tannehill the final three games of 2016 and now will cost him all of 2017 as well. Same knee. Same injury.
This is a quarterback who played with blood in his urine. This is a quarterback who was the most sacked quarterback in the league his first three seasons, and never missed a game. This is a quarterback who has shown incredible toughness and healing ability. The doctors - to include the renowned James Andrews - all advised against surgery in December last year, believing rehab would be enough to strengthen the knee to continue playing in 2017. If Tannehill had surgery in December 2016, it would likely be a 10-12 month recovery then, which would have meant Tannehill would be out of action until, at the very earliest, late October. He would likely miss - again, at the earliest he could return - the first eight games of the season. If the Dolphins were then to rush him back, would there be any reason to risk a re-injury mid-way through the year? Would he even be back at the ten month mark, or would it take 11 months? Or 12 months?
Tannehill and the doctors did what was best for Tannehill to have a chance to play in meaningful games this season. It did not work out. Now, he will be out for the entire 2017 - just about the same amount of time he would have been out if he had surgery in December 2016.
Which brings up the question - is that really “back-to-back season ending injuries?” Or is that just one injury, which happened to be timed poorly enough last year to cost Tannehill back-to-back injuries?
Walker breaks down three scenarios for the Dolphins with their “question” on Tannehill as “restructure the contract,” “keep Jay Cutler instead,” or “remain status quo.” Any seem like reasonable options for the Dolphins - but remain status quo makes the most sense.
Cutler is 34 years old. He would be turning 35 before next season. He has already retired - even if he did not officially put in paperwork - and been talked into coming back only because he will be playing for Gase. Cutler wants to start a broadcasting career. He is not a long-term answer at quarterback for the Dolphins, and he likely is not a bridge option to a new, young quarterback.
Tannehill is 29 years old. He would turn 30 before next season. He has plenty of playing time left, and he wants to be the Dolphins quarterback. Everyone had been excited about the second year in Adam Gase’s offense for Tannehill. Now, suddenly there are questions about if he should be retained?
Tannehill’s first season under Gase, he recorded a 67.1 percent completion rate, with a 7.7 yards per attempt average, and a 93.5 passer rating, all career highs. In Cutler’s season with Gase as his offensive coordinator in Chicago (2015), the quarterback had a 64.4 percent completion rate, a 7.6 yards per attempt average, and a 92.3 passer rating. Tannehill threw for 2,995 yards with 19 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in 13 games, while Cutler in 2015 threw for 3,659 with 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
Similar quarterbacks, with Tannehill having a slightly better set of averages, while Cutler had fewer interceptions (his fewest in a season in which he played more than 10 games). If Cutler takes a step forward in his second season with Gase’s offense, why would Tannehill not be able to do the same when he returns in 2018? Why would a 35 year old quarterback be better than a 30 year old quarterback?
Restructuring Tannehill’s contract could make sense, whether or not he had the injury. Providing him more guaranteed money up front, while lowering his overall cap number, would benefit both player and team. Arguing that Tannehill is somehow suddenly injury prone and needs to take less money could only lead to bigger issues.
As of right now, with no new contracts signed or franchise tags completed for next season, Tannehill will be the 14th highest salary cap numbered quarterback in the league (with Kirk Cousins, Matt Stafford, and Sam Bradford leading the currently scheduled free agents for next spring). In 2019, again without any new contracts, he will move up to 11th (add Carson Palmer, Matt Ryan, Alex Smith, Jameis Winston, and Marcus Mariota as potential free agents). Tannehill’s salary cap numbers seem large, but he is in the middle of the pack each year for a starting quarterback, and could quickly get pushed even further down as new contracts are signed. His “one-year deals” could actually end up looking fairly cheap by the time 2018, 2019, and 2020 roll around.
Adam Gase came to the Dolphins in part - and likely in large part - because of his belief in what Tannehill can be as a quarterback in Gase’s offensive system. From day one of being on the ground, he has talked about how he supports Tannehill and how he has confidence in his quarterback. After 13 games, do we really believe that Gase is suddenly ready to ditch Tannehill in favor of a 35 year old quarterback?
Do we believe that this Dolphins team is in a place where a rookie quarterback - which will be the next argument for a Tannehill replacement - is the right answer? Are Cameron Wake, Reshad Jones, Julius Thomas, Mike Pouncey, Byron Maxwell, Lawrence Timmons, Ndamukong Suh all going to be ready for a rebuild that a rookie quarterback would signal?
Tannehill should be the quarterback of the Miami Dolphins moving forward. He should be out there ready to start Week 1 in 2018, and there should not be any question about it.