Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill Worth Every Bit of $15 Million Annually

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystFebruary 11, 2015

Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Quarterbacks have it made.

It's a fact of life in the NFL. Quarterbacks win all the awards. On top of that, they marry supermodels and date actresses.

(Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers do both, which is just showing off.)

Quarterbacks also make the big bucks, and among the signal-callers lining up for big paydays this year, Russell Wilson and Andrew Luck have hogged the headlines.

They aren't the only passers set to get paid, though, and if the Miami Dolphins are able to sign Ryan Tannehill for the money being discussed, then they might actually be getting the best deal of the bunch.

Much like Wilson and Luck, Tannehill has now played three years in the NFL, which makes him eligible for an extension.

According to Dave Hyde of the South Florida Sun Sentinel, the team and Tannehill have begun kicking the tires on a new deal:

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One source said it's being discussed with a framework being a seven-year contract worth about $105 million (depending on incentives). The numbers and details remain in flux, depending on what structure for the deal is decided on by the team. But the general idea is a contract of about $15 million annually that guarantees the first two years (these years are typically higher than the average of the contract), gives a team option in the third year and a player option in the final two years.

The idea of inking Tannehill to a contract potentially worth north of $100 million strikes some as lunacy, and ESPN.com's James Walker wrote those critics have a point:

He is 23-25 as a starter and has yet to lead the Dolphins to the playoffs or have a winning season. Football is a team sport, so it's not all on him. However, elite franchise quarterbacks elevate the play of those around them, and Tannehill has not yet proven he can do that. Tannehill also struggles mightily to throw the deep ball, which is a weakness that may not be fixable. With a long-term contract, the Dolphins are essentially committing to a short and intermediate passing game that doesn't attack opponents deep.

You know what? The critics are right—to a point.

Sure enough, Tannehill has a losing record as a starting quarterback in the NFL. Tannehill has averaged over 17 turnovers a season over his three-year career. His 6.9 yards per attempt in 2014 ranked 31st among NFL quarterbacks, behind such luminaries as Drew Stanton of the Arizona Cardinals and Charlie Whitehurst of the Tennessee Titans.

Ryan Tannehill Career Stats
Source: NFL.com

Ryan Tannehill isn't a "great" quarterback. He certainly isn't Luck or Wilson.

Looking at Tannehill in a vacuum, a strong argument can be made that he isn't "worth" $15 million a season in annual salary.

The problem is, NFL contracts aren't written in a vacuum, and when you compare the size of this proposed extension to some of the contracts recently given to NFL quarterbacks of a similar talent level, the narrative changes.

For the sake of this exercise, we'll compare the contracts of five quarterbacks who have all signed extensions in the past few seasons.

No, no Aaron Rodgers or Tony Romo. That's a different weight class at the position altogether. No Joe Flacco either—Flacco may be an overpaid quarterback, but he's an overpaid quarterback with a Super Bowl win.

Quarterback Contract Comparison
M. Ryan20135$103.75M$20.75M$42M
C. Kaepernick20146$114M$19M$61M
A. Dalton20146$96M$16M$17M
M. Stafford20133$53M$17.67M$41.5M
J. Cutler20147$126.7M$18.1M$54M
R. Tannehill2015 (?)7$105M$15M???
*Source: Spotrac

Now, it can be hard to definitively state where Tannehill's contract would slot among these quarterbacks until we know how much of the deal would be guaranteed. In the NFL, that's the only figure that really counts—the number we know the team is on the hook for.

Still, assuming that Tannehill's guarantees come in closer to Andy Dalton's $17 million than Colin Kaepernick's knee-knocking $61 million, Tannehill's new deal would be comparatively inexpensive, with a length that affords maximum cap flexibility and an "out" after two years.

Looking better.

Now let's compare how those quarterbacks performed in 2014.

Credit: Gary Davenport/Bleacher Report

Yes, will some will say that using only the most recent season is an unfair comparison. However, the NFL is very much a "what have you done for me lately?" business, and were Tannehill not coming off the best season of his career the Dolphins wouldn't be talking extension yet in the first place.

And Tannehill is coming off a career year. In 2014 Tannehill became only the second quarterback in Dolphins history to eclipse 4,000 passing yards in a season. His 392 completions were a team record.

It was a performance that impressed Bleacher Report NFL National Lead Writer Matt Bowen (per Brian Coyle of the Dolphins' website).

I think he really progressed towards the 2nd half of the season...I think you saw that level of progression go up throughout the season.

If you look at Ryan Tannehill, especially in a league that's really starved for young quarterbacks…you want to have a guy like Ryan Tannehill.

It was also a performance that was good enough to place Tannehill in the top three among the six signal-callers we're comparing in passer rating, Pro Football Focus QB Rating and ESPN's QBR.

Or, you could parse quite a few words from that and just go with the assessment of Bleacher Report's Alex Miglio:

Here's the thing. Ryan Tannehill isn't a great quarterback. He may never be a great quarterback.

So what?

Not every team gets a great quarterback. In case you haven't noticed, not every team in the NFL even gets a good quarterback.

And Tannehill's at least that. In fact, he's a very good quarterback and one who's gotten better and better each year he's been in the league.

And in today's market for quarterbacks, $15 million a season for that sort of player isn't bad at all.

Gary Davenport is an NFL Analyst at Bleacher Report and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Gary on Twitter @IDPManor.