Barry Jackson

NFL executives assess what Dolphins could get for Tannehill and a potential complication

Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill after Buffalo Bills game.

Quarterback Ryan Tannehill comments on his future at the Miami Dolphins after the Buffalo Bills defeat the Miami Dolphins at New Era Field, Orchard Park, NY on Sunday, December 30, 2018.
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Quarterback Ryan Tannehill comments on his future at the Miami Dolphins after the Buffalo Bills defeat the Miami Dolphins at New Era Field, Orchard Park, NY on Sunday, December 30, 2018.

The Dolphins are expected to explore trading Ryan Tannehill, who likely won’t be back.

But what could they realistically get in return?

I asked two longtime NFL executives and both said Miami should expect nothing more than a mid-round pick.

One veteran NFL general manager said potentially a fourth-rounder but noted there’s a looming complication involving his agent, Pat Dye.

As that GM explained, a team trading for Tannehill might want permission to speak with Dye to gauge Tannehill’s willingness to renegotiate his contract before making the trade and then reduce the $18.7 million and $19.5 million he’s owed each of the next two seasons. (That salary is not guaranteed.) That contract also carries onerous cap hits of $26.6 million and $25.1 million in 2019 and 2020.

The problem with that, the GM said, is that Tannehill and Dye might balk at a paycut and instead indirectly pressure the Dolphins to release him, where he could pick the team of his choice and go to the highest bidder if he wishes.

“The contract numbers are really high on him,” said the league executive, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “The question is would he renegotiate to facilitate a trade. But why would he renegotiate? A team will ask to renegogiate and I think Pat Dye would say no if it involves a pay cut. And then they would be forced to cut him.”

Then there’s the issue of what Tannehill is worth as far as draft pick compensation. Last year, the Kansas City Chiefs acquired a third-round pick (78th overall) and cornerback Kendall Fuller for Alex Smith, who was coming off a season in which he had a 104.7 passer rating, 26 touchdowns and five interceptions.

The Redskins made the trade knowing that Smith, who had one year left on his contact at the time, would be agreeable to a four-year, $94 million extension that he signed shortly after the deal was announced.

Tannehill, conversely, is coming off a season in which he had a 92.7 rating, 17 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

What’s more, Smith had missed only four games in five years — compared to 24 over the past three seasons for Tannehill — and has a clearly better career body of work than Tannehill.

That’s why Smith could likely pluck more than Tannehill in a trade — not only the pick, but a solid cornerback in Fuller, who had four interceptions for the Redskins in 2017 and has two interceptions in 14 starts this season for the Chiefs.

“Smith a year ago would be much more sought after than Tannehill now,” the executive said. “I think that’s how people would see it. A third-round pick for Tannehill would be on the optimistic side. Maybe a fourth. There aren’t as many teams looking for a quarterback now [after last year’s draft].”

The other personnel executive said the Dolphins can expect to get only a fourth- or fifth-round pick in return for Tannehill.

“Alex Smith is better than him,” that executive said. “And he’s just not a natural at the position” – in terms of pocket presence and other dynamics needed to play the position consistently well.

One of the executives mentioned Jacksonville as a likely option.

Why did Pro Football Focus rate Tannehill lowest among all qualifying NFL quarterbacks?

PFF cites several factors — lack of big plays downfield and too many balls that should have resulted in turnovers that didn’t, including six dropped interceptions.

“The reality is that Tannehill owes a lot of his production to his pass-catchers’ ability to add yards after the catch,” PFF said.

His passer rating, 20th in the league, would have been lower without big yards after catch numbers from Albert Wilson, Kenyan Drake and others. And his poor pocket presence was exposed, becoming an increasing irritant to Dolphins people as the season drew to a close.

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