Breaking down Ryan Tannehill's deal

The now-completed negotiation between Ryan Tannehill, the No. 8 pick in the 2012 draft, and the Miami Dolphins featured some hardline negotiating on what has become a significant issue: offset language.

Although the new CBA predetermines bonus and salary for rookie contracts, it leaves “backside” contract issues open to interpretation, issues that become negotiations in themselves. From talking to sources close to the negotiation, the Dolphins-Tannehill talks were a clear illustration of this.

The offset

Offset language gives teams the ability on guaranteed contracts, as top rookie deals are, to recover guaranteed salary in the event the player is released and signs with a new team -- making his salary offset by the new team’s salary.

Once the No. 9 pick in the 2012 draft, Luke Kuechly, signed a deal with no offset language -- meaning he can “double dip” two salaries if released -- all the other top-eight picks demanded and received the same language (although No. 5 pick Justin Blackmon remains unsigned), setting the stage for Tannehill.

From the beginning of the negotiation, the Dolphins made offset a non-negotiable item. The data in their favor was strong: every contract with guarantees negotiated since March 2010 -- including 2010 and 2011 top picks Jared Odrick and Mike Pouncey, veterans Cameron Wake and Reggie Bush, etc. -- had offset. And, last year’s No. 8 pick, also a quarterback -- Jake Locker with the Titans -- had offset.

Tannehill’s camp pressed the argument that this year’s picks in front and the pick immediately behind had no offset, but to no avail. With the team’s uncompromising stance, its recent negotiating history and the Locker deal last year, this was an uphill climb. And Tannehill was concerned about starting his Dolphins career, as the team’s quarterback of the future, as a holdout.

Simply, the Dolphins-Tannehill negotiation was the perfect storm for the player being saddled with an offset.

The return

Although the Dolphins wouldn’t budge on offset, they did allow for cash flow “gives” to -- pardon the pun -- “offset” the offset language. The contract allows Tannehill to collect:

  • His entire signing bonus -- $7.65 million -- within 60 days: $5 million now and the balance on Sept. 30.

  • The balance of his salary -- beyond minimum salary -- in training camp roster bonuses, giving him a total of $2.9 million of “early money” in Years 2-4 of the deal.

Thus, although the Dolphins drew a line in the sand over offset language, there were considerations made to allow Tannehill to walk away from the deal feeling like he won something. The Dolphins were able to get their strongly preferred language while providing positive cash flow in return.

Welcome to the new world of rookie contract negotiations.