Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill is technically entering a contract year.
But after glowing praise from general manager Dennis Hickey on Wednesday, it’s clear Tannehill isn’t going anywhere.
Hickey, addressing South Florida media after the Senior Bowl’s morning practice, said: “We are excited about [Tannehill’s] future as a Dolphin. ... We saw a lot of progress [in 2014].”
Translation: Expect the Dolphins, at the very least, to pick up the fifth-year option on Tannehill’s rookie contract, a $15 million commitment to their young leader that will be guaranteed in the case of injury. The QB finished with 4,045 yards passing, 27 touchdowns, 12 interceptions and a 92.8 rating this season.
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Hickey, always cautious with his words, would not commit to the move Wednesday, but many around the league believe it’s a foregone conclusion. Whether Tannehill actually would play on that fifth year of his deal remains to be seen.
The organization would probably want to sign him to a long-term extension before it gets to that point; Tannehill’s agent, Pat Dye, is in town for this week’s all-star showcase.
How the finances will work is just part of the complex equation Hickey must solve as he tries to get the team over the hump with, what is now, a limited budget. The Dolphins are already projected to be near the roughly $140 million salary cap in 2015, but they can clear up substantial space by cutting pricy veterans such as Dannell Ellerbe, Brian Hartline, Cortland Finnegan and Randy Starks.
“Dawn [Aponte] has done a great job with the cap. ... Now we have some difficult decisions to make,” Hickey said.
Those decisions likely won’t be enacted for at least another month. As of this week, the Dolphins had not approached Hartline about restructuring his cap-heavy deal.
It’s just one of several tough decisions Hickey must make at the wide receiver position. Another: What to do with Mike Wallace, the team’s highest-paid player who was benched the second half of the season finale and has not been pleased with his role on the team. Dolphins owner Stephen Ross said last week that a decision on Wallace’s future had not been made.
“I think we’re all frustrated with the way the season went,” Hickey said when asked about Wallace’s situation. “... The goal is to use that as a motivation.”
Whatever the team decides to do with Wallace, Hickey made clear it will be a collaborative effort with coach Joe Philbin and new executive vice president of football operations Mike Tannenbaum, who was brought in to provide leadership in the personnel department.
“Mike and I have been working together for 11 months,” Hickey said of his new boss. “We’re going to work well together. ... For the most part, we’re on the same page.”
Hickey added: “My role hasn’t changed. I’m still evaluating, putting together a 53-man roster. I’m just excited about bringing Mike to the team.”
Other takeaways from Hickey’s first media availability in months:
▪ The team remains high on guard Billy Turner, who hardly played as a rookie but will be given every opportunity to start this season: “We feel like Billy Turner made a lot of strides toward the end of the season.”
▪ When asked about the late-season swoon of the Dolphins defense, which allowed 193 points in the final six games, Hickey responded: “We were 8-8. That’s how I look at each position group. ... We have to get better.”
▪ Ross has repeatedly said that the Dolphins need to win this coming year. What he has left unsaid: Philbin and Hickey will probably be out if they don’t. When asked if he feels any additional pressure this season, Hickey chuckled and then responded: “We’re about winning. That’s how I approach every season.”
▪ Hickey declined comment when asked if the Dolphins had ever suspected the Patriots of using deflated footballs, which is a hot topic here this week.
▪ Hickey, on the 2015 draft class: “It’s a good draft. We’re excited about the prospects. ... We feel like we have a good feel of the landscape.”