A few weeks before the NFL Scouting Combine, the Dolphins committed themselves in word to Ryan Tannehill. You’re our future, they assured him.
Four months later, they did the same in deed — with a contract extension that locks Tannehill up through 2020, with $77 million in new money.
But the six-year, $96 million deal, announced Monday, was never a sure thing. Far from it.
Only three weeks ago, the two sides hit an impasse so significant that Tannehill’s agent, Pat Dye, believed the deal might be dead.
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Then came a fateful call May 11. The Dolphins, led by Mike Tannebaum and Dennis Hickey, made a counteroffer that changed the game.
“That was the first time I or Ryan felt like there was hope that we might get something done,” Dye said.
Seven days later, it was done — with the Dolphins putting into writing their belief that he is their quarterback of the present and future.
“I didn’t know if it was going to happen or not,” an ecstatic Tannehill said Tuesday, flanked by Hickey and coach Joe Philbin as he met with reporters. “I still had two years [on my contract], so it wasn’t something I was expecting.
“Fortunately enough, we made it happen.”
Here’s why: The extension will fully guarantee Tannehill $25 million over the next three years. Tannehill gets an immediate raise over the nearly $19 million he was due the next two seasons. And with a bit of accounting magic, Dye could argue that Tannehill’s new-money average from 2017 through 2020 is the sixth-highest in the league.
By any measure, it’s life-changing money for Tannehill, who asked parents Tim and Cheryl and wife Lauren to join him at Tuesday’s announcement.
And, as he knows, the money alters perceptions too. Tannehill has never had a winning season, and that must change — immediately — or doubts will only grow.
“I always think there’s a lot on the quarterback,” Tannehill said. “That doesn’t change. I have to perform, week in and week out. … I think all the pieces are in place to have a special 2015.”
Philbin, for one, needs it to be. Most believe he is in a must-win situation.
Philbin created a quarterback controversy last September when, after a couple of poor games by Tannehill, he refused to name him the next week’s starter. Tannehill ultimately started that game, led the Dolphins to a blowout victory over the Raiders, and made the matter moot for the rest of the season.
Fast-forward eight months, and Tannehill controls Philbin’s future more than other way around.
“I think he’s got great potential,” Philbin said. “I have full confidence he’s going to get better and better and better. This guy’s a pro.”
Still, the Dolphins were under no pressure to get the deal done this offseason. They owned his rights through 2016 — at a huge discount.
Plus Tannehill had reason to wait, too. The Colts’ Andrew Luck and Seahawks’ Russell Wilson, the other top quarterbacks in his draft class, are due new contracts, too, and Tannehill could have waited for them to set the market. It’s possible he left money on the table by not waiting another year.
“I told Ryan, as we were looking at this, ‘You need to prepare yourself to one day wake up and read about Andrew Luck getting $25 million a year,’ ” Dye said. “ ‘But we have two years left and the team is willing to make you a top-10, highest-paid quarterback, based on what you’ve done so far. I don’t think you put that off.’ ”
The deal already has had ripple effects. John Schneider, the Seawhawks’ general manager, called Dye recently to sarcastically thank him for costing the Seahawks “a lot of money on Russell Wilson.”
That’s not Tannehill’s concern. His family and his future are. He’s a “bird-in-the-hand guy,” Dye said, and the guarantees were just too much to pass up.
Plus, Dye already has a plan for Tannehill’s third contract. He told Hickey after Tuesday’s announcement to expect to hear from him about a renegotiation in the not-so-distant future.
“We’re going to be knocking on the door in three or four years and hopefully with a Lombardi Trophy to revisit it,” Dye said, perhaps only half-kidding. “Obviously, they are betting on the come with those kind of dollars.”
Ryan Tannehill is now the sixth-highest-paid QB in the NFL
1. Aaron Rodgers, GB
2. Ben Roethlisberger, PIT
3. Matt Ryan, ATL
4. Joe Flacco, BAL
5. Drew Brees, NO
6. Ryan Tannehill, MIA
7. Peyton Manning, DEN
8. Colin Kaepernick, SF
9. Jay Cutler, CHI
10. Tony Romo, DAL