Miami Dolphins

Re-signing Stills remains a Dolphins priority — but what would it cost? History says a lot

Kenny Stills led the Dolphins with nine touchdowns in 2016.
Kenny Stills led the Dolphins with nine touchdowns in 2016. adiaz@miamiherald.com

One way or the other, Kenny Stills knows his life will change in three weeks.

Free agency is March 9, and Stills is expected to get paid.

That is, if the Dolphins don’t lock him down with a long-term deal first.

Re-signing Stills, who led the team in yards per catch (17.3) and touchdowns (9) in 2017, has consistently been and remains a priority for the Dolphins, a source tells the Miami Herald. It doesn’t appear a deal is imminent, and Stills could be tempted to shop around before signing anything.

So what’s the price tag?

We don’t know for sure, but a good guide is what players of similar production have received in the past few years, adjusted to reflect an ever-increasing salary cap. The exact cap figure for 2017 is not yet public, but the best guess is around $168 million — an increase of 8 percent over last year.

Stills caught 42 passes for 726 yards and those nine scores in 2016, giving him the following stat line for his four-year career: 164 catches, 2,738 yards and 20 touchdowns. That’s an average of 41/685/5 per season.

What Stills lacked in volume as a pro, he’s more than made up for in efficiency. Stills has averaged an eye-popping 16.7 yards per catch and 1 touchdown every 8.2 receptions during that stretch.

Then there’s this: Since the start of the 2013 season, Stills is third among all receivers with at least 50 targets in yards per target (9.9).

No contract is crafted in a vacuum, of course, so let’s compare Stills’ stats to those of other receivers who have cashed in (including some who were admittedly more accomplished). These figures are all courtesy of OverTheCap.com.

  Indianapolis Colts' T.Y. Hilton (13) catches a pass for a touchdown as Houston Texans' D.J. Swearinger (36) defends the play during the second half of an NFL football game, Thurs., Oct. 9, 2014, in Houston.Patric SchneiderAP Photo

T.Y. Hilton, Colts

▪  Contract terms: Five years, $65 million ($13 million annually). $10 million signing bonus. Signed before the 2015 season.

▪  Adjusted to 2017 cap: Five years, $76 million ($15.2 million annually). $11.7 million signing bonus.

▪  Average career stats before contract: 71 catches, 1,096 yards, 6.3 touchdowns per year; 15.4 yards per catch; 1 touchdown every 11.3 receptions.

  Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Jeremy Maclin (19) makes a catch against Cleveland Browns cornerback Tramon Williams (22) during the second half of an NFL football game in Kansas City, Mo., Sun., Dec. 27, 2015.Charlie RiedelAP Photo

Jeremy Maclin, Chiefs

▪  Contract terms: Five years, $55 million ($11 million annually). $12 million signing bonus. Signed before the 2015 season.

▪  Adjusted to 2017 cap: Five years, $64 million ($12.9 million annually). $14 million signing bonus.

▪  Average career stats before contract: 67 catches, 954 yards, 7.2 touchdowns per year; 13.9 yards per catch; 1 touchdown every 9.5 receptions.

  San Diego Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen reacts after a reception against the Detroit Lions during the first half of an NFL football game Sun., Sept. 13, 2015, in San Diego.Alex GallardoAP Photo

Keenan Allen, Chargers

▪  Contract terms: Four years, $45 million ($11.3 million annually). $9.5 million signing bonus. Signed before the 2016 season.

▪  Adjusted to 2017 cap: Four years, $48.6 million ($12.2 million annually). $10.3 million signing bonus.

▪  Average career stats before contract: 72 catches, 851 yards, 5.3 touchdowns per year; 11.9 yards per catch; 1 touchdown every 13.4 receptions.

  Denver Broncos wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (10) catches a touchdown pass against Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Adam Jones (24) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sun., Sept. 25, 2016, in Cincinnati.Gary LandersAP Photo

Emmanuel Sanders, Broncos

▪  Contract terms: Three years, $33 million ($11 million annually). $10.8 million signing bonus. Signed before the 2016 season.

▪  Adjusted to 2017 cap: Three years, $35.6 million ($11.9 million annually). $11.7 million signing bonus.

▪  Average career stats in four years before contract: 72 catches, 976 yards, 5.5 touchdowns per year; 13.6 yards per catch; 1 touchdown every 13.1 receptions.

  Los Angeles Rams receiver Tavon Austin breaks the tackle of New York Jets linebacker Julian Stanford during a second half drive on Sun., Nov. 13, 2016 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.Robert GauthierLos Angeles Times/TNS

Tavon Austin, Rams

▪  Contract terms: Four years, $42 million ($10.5 million annually). $17 million fully guaranteed. Signed before the 2016 season.

▪  Adjusted to 2017 cap: Four years, $45.4 million ($11.3 million annually). $18.4 million fully guaranteed.

▪  Average career stats before contract: 41 catches, 378 yards, 3 touchdowns per year; 9.2 yards per catch; 1 touchdown every 13.7 receptions.

  Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Allen Hurns (88) catches the ball for a touchdown during the NFL game between Buffalo Bills and Jacksonville Jaguars at Wembley Stadium in London, Sun., Oct. 25, 2015.Tim IrelandAP Photo

Allen Hurns, Jaguars

▪  Contract terms: Four years, $40.1 million ($10 million annually). $16 million fully guaranteed. Signed before the 2016 season.

▪  Adjusted to 2017 cap: Four years, $43.3 million ($10.8 million annually). $17.3 million fully guaranteed.

▪  Average career stats before contract: 58 catches, 854 yards, 8 touchdowns per year; 14.7 yards per catch; 1 touchdown every 7.2 receptions.

  Detroit Lions wide receiver Golden Tate (15) pulls in a touchdown pass in front of New Orleans Saints cornerback Delvin Breaux (40) in the first half of an NFL football game in New Orleans, Mon., Dec. 21, 2015.Brynn AndersonAP Photo

Golden Tate, Lions

▪  Contract terms: Five years, $31 million ($6.2 million annually). $8 million signing bonus. Signed before the 2014 season.

▪  Adjusted to 2017 cap: Five years, $39.2 million ($7.8 million annually). $10.1 million signing bonus.

▪  Average career stats before contract: 41 catches, 549 yards, 3.8 touchdowns per year; 13.4 yards per catch; 1 touchdown 11 receptions.

So what does this all mean?

Well, let’s rule out Stills getting a Hilton-sized deal. He’s simply not on that level.

Many are pointing to Austin’s jaw-dropping extension as a guide for future wide receiver deals, but some teams plan to simply ignore it as an outlier. Austin does a little bit of everything for the Rams, while Stills is basically a receiver at this point.

None of the aforementioned receivers can match Stills’ yards-per-catch efficiency, but that number needs perspective. Stills benefited from being the Dolphins’ primary (and at times, only) deep threat the last two years.

Here’s our take: Tate’s contract is likely Stills’ floor, and Sanders’ is probably the ceiling. So let’s split the difference.

The market suggests Stills should get a deal the neighborhood of four years, $40 million, with around $15 million in fully guaranteed money.

But the real market is whatever one team is willing to pay for a player, as evidenced by the Giants giving Olivier Vernon a shocking contract last year.

So it’s safe to say Stills is going to be worth $10 million annually — if not more — to somebody.

We’ll soon find out if the Dolphins are that team.

Adam H. Beasley: 305-376-3565, @AdamHBeasley

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