Barry Jackson

The confidential details in Fitzpatrick’s Dolphins contract and potential consequences

Some might say that quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick - bless his heart - could cost the Dolphins a chance at the first overall draft pick because of his penchant for occasional bursts of excellence. He also stands to cost them financially, too, though it’s nothing the team cannot afford.

Unless he’s yanked from the lineup, Fitzpatrick likely will cost the Dolphins a couple million dollars more than what he would have cost them had Josh Rosen won the starting quarterback job.

According to a copy of his contract obtained by The Miami Herald, Fitzpatrick has several incentives that, if reached, could make him the NFL’s most expensive backup quarterback next season.

The irony is that Fitzpatrick wasn’t necessarily supposed to even be the backup next season; the Dolphins - when they acquired Rosen - believed Rosen would prove good enough to compete with the quarterback Miami is expected to select with its first-round pick in April, or - at the very least - back up that rookie.

But the Dolphins keep playing Fitzpatrick, because he clearly gives them a better chance to win than Rosen, and coach Brian Flores would lose respect from his players if he went with Rosen. We get that.

But the more Fitzpatrick plays, the more his salary rises for 2020. He’s already owed $5.5 million next season, of which $1.5 million is guaranteed.

But if he plays 55 percent of the Dolphins’ snaps this season, he would make $1 million more on top of the $5.5 million, and it would become guaranteed.

Or if he plays 65 percent of the snaps, it would cost the Dolphins $2 million more.

Or if he plays 75 percent, it would cost $2.5 million more.

At the moment, Fitzpatrick has played 60.5 percent of Miami’s offensive snaps. If he plays the rest of the season, he would top 75 percent.

Read Next

So that would give Fitzpatrick an $8 million salary next season. That salary could rise to $9.5 million if he meets another $1.5 million incentive clause that requires he plays at least 50 percent of Miami’s snaps and also requires that Miami finishes no worse than 27th in the league in touchdowns scored or pass completion percentage as a team or sacks allowed.

Miami is in the bottom five in all of those categories, so the Dolphins’ offense will need to pick it up to make Fitzpatrick another $1.5 million.

Under terms of the contract negotiated between the Dolphins and agent Jimmy Sexton, Fitzpatrick can make another $1 million if he plays 50 percent of the snaps and Miami makes the playoffs. That, obviously, isn’t happening.

But there’s a real chance that Fitzpatrick will make $8 million or $9.5 million next season, making him one of the league’s highest-paid second- or third-string quarterbacks. Rosen, also expected to be on the team in 2020, is set to earn $660,000 next season with a $2.1 million cap hit.

Because it would set a bad precedent and because they have a ton of cap space, I do not expect Fitzpatrick’s playing time incentive clause to affect the Dolphins’ decision on whether to keep playing Fitzpatrick this season.

Let’s be clear: Fitzpatrick is a class act, a wonderful leader, beloved by teammates and has brought stability and a measure of competence to a young Dolphins offense. But he’s not good enough to contend with. And if the hope is to get the top quarterback in the draft, then signing him was too risky, as I wrote here the day after he signed.

And though the Dolphins could cut him after the season, they would owe him $1.5 million guaranteed, plus any of the aforementioned incentives - which would make it senseless to release him. So having three quarterbacks on next year’s team makes sense (the first-round pick, Fitzpatrick and Rosen), and the Dolphins can easily afford that. Plus, Fitzpatrick can help mentor the rookie quarterback.

Several things must be said in the Dolphins’ defense on this:

1) They didn’t know they would be acquiring Rosen when they signed Fitzpatrick in mid-March.

2) They also didn’t plan to be quite this bad. The original plan, back in March, was to get the salary cap in order and start developing a young core with no expectation of winning a lot this year. But they did not want to field an embarrassing product, either, as I reported in August. Then Houston overwhelmed them in a trade offer for Laremy Tunsil.

3) Fitzpatrick has been a factor in helping develop rookie receiver Preston Williams and much-improved tight end Mike Gesicki, which will help down the line when Fitzpatrick has moved on.

4) The first quarterback selected in the draft often doesn’t turn out to be the best, so the Dolphins don’t believe they’re doomed if Fitzpatrick helps Miami win a few more games and pick, say, third instead of first.

Keep in mind that the two best quarterbacks in the 2018 draft class so far have been Lamar Jackson (selected 32nd by Baltimore) and undrafted former University of Houston quarterback Kyle Allen (excelling for the Carolina Panthers). Their passer ratings this season top those of top 11 draft picks Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen and Rosen.

5) If the Dolphins had signed a quarterback who was dismal, and the results were blowouts every week, it would have been more difficult for Flores to establish a culture. So Fitzpatrick has helped the coach in that regard.

6) The Dolphins will have a ton of cap space - more than $110 million - whether they need to pay these Fitzpatrick incentives or not.

Despite all of those valid reasons for signing him, it would be unfortunate if the Dolphins subjected themselves to all of this pain - by stripping the roster to this extent - and not be positioned to get who they view is the best quarterback in the draft in part because Fitzpatrick was too competent at his job.

Here are my Wednesday Dolphins notes, with news on a receiver added, a decision on Cordrea Tankersley, and coaches opining on several players.

Here’s my Wednesday Heat six-pack.

Related stories from Miami Herald