Ryan Tannehill: Contract extension or fifth-year option?

Now that the New England Patriots were crowned Super Bowl champions for the 2014 season, it’s time to turn the page to the 2015 season where 32 teams are 0-0 and tied for first place.

The Miami Dolphins are one of the three teams chasing the Patriots in the AFC East. There is a lot of work to do this offseason, but perhaps Miami’s biggest decision is how to handle the contract situation of starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill. The move will significantly impact the franchise -- for better or for worse.

Here are Miami's options:

  • Tannehill is entering the final season of his four-year rookie contract in 2015. However, the Dolphins have a fifth-year, team option for 2016 worth approximately $15 million with a May deadline. That is a lot of money for one season. But using the option, in addition to Tannehill’s affordable salary of $2.117 million, would keep the quarterback in the fold for two more seasons at about $17 million. The Dolphins could view it as paying their starting quarterback about $8.5 million per season over the next two years. That way, it doesn’t appear to be as risky an investment.

  • The Dolphins also could work out a long-term contract extension with Tannehill this offseason that would make him Miami’s starting quarterback for the foreseeable future. That would include multiple years and it won’t come cheap. Quarterbacks such as Jay Cutler ($126 million), Colin Kaepernick ($126 million) and Andy Dalton ($115 million) all received huge extensions. A case can be made that Tannehill is now in that class coming off a career year where he threw for 4,045 yards, 27 touchdowns and a 92.8 passer rating. If Dalton can get $100 million, so can Tannehill. That’s how inflated the quarterback market is right now. But also keep in mind that these contracts include performance bonuses and clauses that make the final number higher than it truly is.

  • Finally, the Dolphins can roll the dice and wait it out with Tannehill. This seems like the least likely scenario. But if Miami isn’t convinced it wants Tannehill to be its starter beyond 2015 -- and there has been no indication that is the case -- the team can let him play out the final year of his contract and risk him becoming an unrestricted free agent next year. The Baltimore Ravens did that with their former first-round quarterback in Joe Flacco and paid dearly for it. Flacco won the Super Bowl in a contract year and Baltimore was forced to make Flacco the highest-paid quarterback in the NFL at the time when it could have signed him for less the summer prior. Tannehill doesn’t appear close to leading the Dolphins to a Super Bowl championship. But they like him enough to not run that risk.

So which option will Miami take? I’m expecting the fifth-year option for Tannehill.

Sure, the $15 million price tag for 2016 is a bit scary. But the team should focus on the $17 million investment over two seasons, which makes it look less daunting.

The Dolphins think Tannehill can develop into a legit franchise quarterback who can consistently lead the team to the playoffs. But he has yet to prove it. Miami should know for sure by the end of the 2016 season if Tannehill is worth the mega extension other quarterbacks like Cutler and Dalton received prematurely.