This Date In Transactions History: Ryan Tannehill, Dolphins Agree To Extension

The Dolphins are currently navigating a quarterback extension, as the front office is working with Tua Tagovailoa on a lucrative second contract. Almost a decade ago, the team found themselves in a very similar situation.

On this date in 2015, the Dolphins signed quarterback Ryan Tannehill to an extension. The six-year, $96MM extension included $45MM guaranteed, and it was intended to cover the last year of the quarterback’s rookie deal, the fifth-year option season, and four additional free agent years.

At the time, it was hard to be overly critical of Miami’s long-term commitment to the former first-round pick. Tannehill topped 3,000 passing yards in each of his first three seasons in the NFL, and he improved on his touchdown totals in each of his campaigns (culminating in a 2014 season where he tossed 27 scores). While the Dolphins had yet to break through with a postseason run, the team’s worst showing through Tannehill’s first three seasons was a 7-9 mark during his rookie campaign.

There was some urgency on the Dolphins’ part to complete a deal. Tannehill was one of four QBs from the 2012 draft class (along with Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, and Russell Wilson) to be eyeing lucrative extensions, and Miami assured they wouldn’t be boxed into a corner by completing the first deal from that group. Luck ended up getting $140MM from the Colts while Wilson got around $88MM on a four-year deal with the Seahawks (Griffin never got a second contract from Washington). When compared to his draftmates, Tannehill’s average annual value didn’t break the bank.

Of course, the move didn’t come without risk. This was the first major move by Mike Tannenbaum, the Dolphins’ new executive vice president of football operations. It was Tannenbaum’s decision to hand Mark Sanchez a sizable extension in New York that ultimately led to the executive’s ouster. Tannenbaum wasn’t looking to make the same mistake twice.

“We are thrilled that we were able to sign Ryan to an extension,” Tannenbaum said at the time (via the Miami Herald). “He is an ascending talent, a team leader and checks all of the boxes you are looking for at the position.”

While the Dolphins dropped to 6-10 during Tannehill’s first year playing on the extension, the QB continued to validate the organization’s decision. The fourth-year player tossed a career-high 4,045 passing yards that season, making him the fourth QB in NFL history to top 3,000 passing yards in each of his first four seasons. The Dolphins took a step forward during Tannehill’s fifth season at the helm, with the team finally earning a playoff nod. However, after going 8-5 through the first 13 games, Tannehill suffered a season-ending knee injury that knocked him out for the postseason.

That injury ended up greatly altering Tannehill’s ability to finish his contract with Miami. The quarterback opted for rehab over surgery to his injured ACL, allowing him to be on the field for the start of 2017 training camp. However, he suffered another injury during the first day of 11-on-11 drills, and he eventually went under the knife to repair the torn ACL.

That following offseason, the Dolphins faced a major cap crunch. While Tannenbaum could have moved on from Tannehill (via release or trade) without any financial penalty, the executive instead reworked the player’s contract. That move temporarily opened up some breathing room under the cap, but it also kicked some sizable guaranteed money down the road. That decision ended up greatly reducing the organization’s return for the QB a year later.

Tannehill returned in time for the 2018 campaign but was forced to miss a chunk of games due to a shoulder injury. After the Dolphins were forced to rely on their QB2 for three-straight seasons, the team finally decided to cut bait on their franchise signal caller. During the 2019 offseason, the Dolphins traded Tannehill to the Titans for draft compensation. The QB agreed to rip up his contract with Tennessee, locking him into a one-year prove-it deal for the 2019 campaign.

Tannehill bounced back in a big way that season, earning his first career Pro Bowl nod while guiding the Titans to a 7-3 regular season record and a pair of postseason victories. That performance earned him a new contract from the Titans, a four-year, $118MM pact. Tannehill continued to guide a playoff squad in Tennessee for the 2020 and 2021 seasons, but he had an inconsistent role in 2022 and 2023 following the additions of Malik Willis and Will Levis. The 35-year-old is currently a free agent.

Nine years after signing the extension, things couldn’t have worked out much better for Tannehill. Of course, that doesn’t mean the quarterback didn’t take a handful of risks. For starters, much of his future guaranteed money was only due if Tannehill played, meaning he could have been cut at any time without any penalty (an advantage that the Dolphins squandered following that aforementioned restructuring). Tannehill also could have played hard ball with the Titans with the hope of getting cut, but he ultimately fave up some significant future money as he looked to rehabilitate his image. That gamble immediately worked out for the QB, as the Titans signed him to his third contract.

While the Dolphins never reached the success they were surely envisioning when they extended Tannehill, the team at least waved the white flag at the right time. Following a bridge season with Ryan Fitzpatrick under center, the team quickly found their future answer at QB in Tagovailoa. Of course, that glass-half-full perspective wasn’t enough to save Tannenbaum’s job. The executive was reassigned from his role in 2018, and while it was the Dolphins’ entire body of work that led to his demotion/firing, the Tannehill restructuring in 2018 certainly didn’t help.

As the Dolphins look to sign Tagovailoa to a second contract, the top decision makers will surely proceed with caution after seeing how things unfolded with their last major QB investment.

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