Armando Salguero

Armando Salguero: Miami Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill still has to prove he is worthy of big-money extension

Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill lays on the field after Minnesota Vikings defender Harrison Smith recoverd a fumble in the second quarter at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens on Sept. 21, 2014.
Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill lays on the field after Minnesota Vikings defender Harrison Smith recoverd a fumble in the second quarter at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens on Sept. 21, 2014. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

The Dolphins have every expectation Ryan Tannehill is going to be their quarterback for years to come. He’s their guy. There is no doubt about that.

“He checks a lot of boxes,” club executive vice president for football operations Mike Tannenbaum said during a break at the NFL owners meeting last week.

“He’s young. We drafted him. He’s an incredibly hard worker. Football is really important to him. There’s a lot of redeeming value there. When his contract gets done, we can’t sit here and say with certainty. But we hope he’s here for years to come.”

Ah, yes, the contract.

Tannehill will be in the final year of his rookie deal during the 2015 season. He is costing the team $4 million on the salary cap, which is wholesale-store-bargain-good because there are 10 players costing more against the Miami cap than the quarterback.

The Dolphins even are paying more salary-cap freight this year on three players no longer on the team — Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline and Dannell Ellerbe — than they are on Tannehill.

But Tannehill’s deal runs out after 2015. The Dolphins can use a one-year extension option that would tie Tannehill to the team through 2016. They have until May 1 to exercise that $16.1 million option that begins to count in, not coincidentally, 2016.

That means there is no real urgency to get a long-term contract done with Tannehill now.

Or the team can dive headlong into long-term contract negotiations with the player and sign him to a multiyear deal at any time. Indeed, the first steps of that process have already taken place because the sides have exchanged offers.

“He knows what we can do,” Tannenbaum said. “At the appropriate time we’ll see where we can go with that.”

Nothing is imminent. And that’s the point.

Why be in a hurry? Why rush to commit for so long so fast?

THE WAITING GAME

The Dolphins should simply use their one-year option in May and wait. And see what happens.

Why would the team be smart to do that?

The truth is Tannehill is the best of the 17 quarterbacks who followed Dan Marino and the only one who truly makes the case he can bring a championship to Miami in the future if he continues to grow and improve.

But he is not that guy yet.

He hasn’t won a championship. He hasn’t won a playoff game. He hasn’t even been to a playoff game.

And although football is a team game and not making the playoffs isn’t on Tannehill’s head because he is a good player, no one is suggesting he’s a star yet, either.

No, Ryan Tannehill is a good, ascending quarterback who, frankly, hasn’t quite yet arrived or accomplished anything.

So why pay him now like he has arrived and accomplished things?

The NFL has multiple examples of quarterbacks who have gotten big contracts from teams expecting them to continue their ascent. And some of those contracts have become disappointments for the teams.

Andy Dalton in Cincinnati comes to mind.

The point is paying a quarterback elite money before he proves he is elite is unwise.

And the Dolphins readily admit Tannehill still has plenty to prove before anyone dubs him elite.

Just last week at the owners meetings, Stephen Ross mentioned how Tannehill has trouble throwing the deep ball — not a revelation to anyone who has watched him the past few years but eye-opening when the team’s owner brings it up.

There are other things about Tannehill’s game that need improvement and polishing and perhaps even tweaking aside from the deep-ball issue: His penchant for having passes batted at the line of scrimmage, his pocket awareness and decisiveness, his decision-making on throws, and his ability to forge chemistry with his receivers.

All those things need to improve. All those questions need answers.

That’s not saying Tannehill hasn’t come a long way from his 2012 rookie season. That’s also not saying he cannot continue to make obvious and encouraging strides in the future.

But if he’s working to be great someday, why pay him like he’s great today?

Why put more weight now on a salary cap already straining to hold up Ndamukong Suh’s $114million contract?

“The thing that we’re most encouraged about is that you know there’s three real criteria that we look at for the quarterback position,” coach Joe Philbin said. “Decision making, accuracy and big-play ability. We think he’s developing in all three of those categories.

“Definitely the best year of his career. His third season. We still feel like there’s upside there and opportunity for him to continue to grow and develop as a player.

“I guess we like the trajectory that he’s on right now at this point in time.”

TAKE IT SLOW

The trajectory suggests Tannehill is going to be special. But he’s going to need help. And although the Dolphins have made moves this offseason to bring help, sometimes this team’s plans don’t work out exactly as planned.

So although the Dolphins say they have upgraded by trading away Wallace, letting Charles Clay walk in free agency, cutting Brian Hartline and Brandon Gibson and then replacing them with Kenny Stills, Jordan Cameron and maybe an early-round draft pick and veteran free agent to be determined, we just don’t know whether that will pan out.

We don’t know whether the Dolphins did Tannehill a huge favor. Or a disservice.

Certainly, they have given him homework.

“We were talking earlier about our passing game and the importance of timing and spacing and anticipation and rhythm,” Philbin said. “That takes time to develop between a quarterback and receivers. One of the things we liked about Kenny Stills was schematically we felt he fit a lot of the route concepts we like and a lot of those our quarterback throws well.

“Jarvis [Landry] is a player we’re looking forward to expand his role in his second season. And Cameron is maybe a little bit of a different player than Clay was. So it’s going to take a little bit of time, without a doubt.”

Time is something the Dolphins should embrace when it comes to Tannehill. He needs time to grow with his new receivers. He needs time to continue taking leaps and bounds toward stardom.

And they should take their time before they start paying him like a star.

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