In total, this is a 6-year, 96 million dollar deal, but Tannehill was already scheduled to make about 18 million over the next 2 years, between the final year of his rookie deal and the 5th year option the Dolphins exercised earlier this off-season. The extension itself is about 78 million over 4 years, so the average is bigger than the 16 million dollar average it seems like at first. However, only about 45 million of the contract is guaranteed, and even that amount is not fully guaranteed. Tannehill will make 25 million over the first 2 seasons of the deal, but, if he flops in those 2 years, the Dolphins can get out of the rest of the deal entirely, as long as they cut him before the start of the league year in 2017. Basically, they’re giving him an extra 7 million over the next 2 years, guaranteeing it fully (before this extension his 2015 salary was just guaranteed for injury), in exchange for having the option of having him under contract for a combined 71 million over 4 years from 2017-2020, with the ability to get out of it at any point during that time period.
Given that what the Dolphins are actually giving Tannehill is not nearly as onerous as the raw numbers suggest, this is a very good deal. Tannehill, the 8th overall pick in 2012, has gotten better in every year of his career, going from a quarterback rating of 76.1 as a rookie to 81.7 in 2013 and then 92.8. Last season, he finished the year completing 66.4% of his passes for an average of 6.86 yards per attempt, 27 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions. On the season, he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 11th ranked quarterback. He finished 5th in completion percentage, had a strong TD:INT ratio, with his only subpar area being his YPA average. In his career, he’s been below 7 YPA in every season, including last year.
However, I’m not worried about that for two reasons. One, he wasn’t necessarily inaccurate downfield. The offense just called for him to throw a lot of shorter passes, likely because the Dolphins surprisingly ranked 2nd the NFL in yards per carry (4.69 YPA). Tannehill completed 58.6% of his passes between 10-19 yards downfield, which is better than league average, and, while he only completed 30.2% of his passes 20+ yards downfield, he ranked 22nd out of 38 eligible in accuracy (completions + drops/attempts) 20+ yards downfield, so he wasn’t necessarily bad in that aspect of the game.
Second, I find completion percentage to be a more important stat as high completion percentage often correlates with your offense regularly being on schedule. I realize that Tannehill’s completion percentage is inflated by the types of passes he was attempting and that he owes a lot of that high number to his running game making things easier for him, but the Dolphins finished 8th in the NFL in rate of moving the chains last season, moving them at a 75.33% rate. Tannehill doesn’t deserve all the credit for that, but he deserves some, especially as he was dealing with poor offensive line play and an average at best receiving corps. Tannehill also contributed to that strong running game, rushing for 311 yards and 1 touchdown on 56 attempts (5.55 YPC). Besides, while the Dolphins ran well on a per play average, they didn’t run that often overall. Including pass attempts, sacks, and quarterback carries, Tannehill was involved on 66.5% of the Dolphins offensive plays last season, one of the highest usage rates in the NFL.
Right now, I’d say Tannehill is one of the top 10-15 quarterbacks in the NFL with the potential to get even better, going into his 4th year in the league, his age 27 season. It’s a fairly low risk deal if Tannehill flops and, if he doesn’t, this is the kind of money you have to pay to keep a quarterback in today’s NFL. Right now, there are 16 quarterbacks, including Tannehill, whose contracts have an average salary of 15+ million dollars in the NFL. Excluding guys on rookie deals, only one other veteran makes more than 5.25 million annually on his contract. There isn’t a middle ground with quarterbacks in today’s NFL. With the salary cap expanding at a rapid pace, almost all of the extra money is going to the most important position on the field, which makes sense.