Opinion on Ryan Tannehill’s New Contract

So, here’s how it works out when you break it down by the years:

Figure 1: Ryan Tannehill’s Contract and Projected Cap Figures

(Remember: Click on the figures to open them up and enlarge them.)

Ryan Tannehill Contract Figures

So on Tuesday, when I saw this contract, I was the guy I HATE, the Stephen A. Smith type, provocative assclown who thinks they know everything. I tweeted out, “Tannehill could be a terrific QB, I believe in him, but Tannenbaum just paid him like he’s already arrived.” To be honest, I kind of took my pent up annoyance with Ndamukong Suh’s current contract and let that spill over into this situation. Don’t get me wrong, I still think Tannenbaum doesn’t understand the percentage of the salary cap analysis of the cap and that Suh’s Contract Cripples Dolphins (don’t you just hate when people do bad things to dolphins?), but this Tannehill contract is very good.

With the analysis that I’ve been doing for the #Caponomics book coming out this summer (e-mail me at Caponomics@gmail.com if you want to join the e-mail list), I’ve realized the importance of taking advantage of the window you have with a quarterback on a low cap percentage. My first thought at seeing that Tannehill signed a contract was that they had lost out on a chance to extend his low-cap years as long as possible, but two more years below the Super Bowl champion QB1 average of 7.63% is good enough for me. That takes us until 2017, where his cap percentage gets a little out of hand.

Here are my thoughts on Ryan Tannehill, if you put him in the same situations that Andrew Luck or Russell Wilson have been in, I think he could have been able to make the playoffs with both of those teams. With the Dolphins the last few years, he hasn’t had THAT much talent around him and he’s gone 23-25, which is a great record for a young quarterback in the NFL. Cam Newton, with one more season under his belt has gone 30-31-1, which is an only slightly better winning percentage.

During his first two seasons with the Dolphins, the Dolphins were seventh and eighth in the NFL in defense, which is great, but not enough to carry an offense without a lot of talent surrounding a young quarterback. His first season, his two leading receivers were Brian Hartline and Davone Bess, and they were 17th in rushing. They were 26th in passing.

In year two, they added Mike Wallace, but they were 26th in rushing, although they were now the 20th best passing team in the NFL. They did not have a 1000-yard rusher as Lamar Miller led the team with 709 yards.

I’m a firm believer that you need a rushing attack and a great defense to carry a young quarterback to the Super Bowl and they didn’t have the full combination of this in his first two years.

It’s been encouraging that every season, Tannehill has improved and undoubtedly. His completion percentage, yards, touchdowns, and his rushing yards have steadily increased each season. His interceptions increased in 2013, but that’s probably because he threw 100 more passes and had no running game.

Unfortunately for Dolphins fans, when he took his biggest step forward in 2014 and crossed the, once unheard of, 4000-yard plateau in a season, while their defense took a major step back and was 20th in points allowed.

Their rushing improved to 12th in the NFL as Lamar Miller has proven himself as one of the best running backs in the NFL with 1099 rushing yards and 275 receiving. Their addition of Jay Ajayi, who, if he can stay healthy for at least the next four years or so, could be one of the biggest steals of the draft and he’ll be a real difference maker for this team.

This contract made me realize my own natural biases when we hear someone say that Tannehill’s new contract has $77 million in new money and when you see that it’s full worth on the cap over the next six years is $97,185,887, which sounds absurd the first time you hear it. The thing we have to realize is that the salary cap has grown so much over the last decade that $100 million isn’t that big a deal, it’s not an astronomical figure anymore in the NFL. When I wrote this article for USA Today’s Steelers Wire, I realized that the salary cap is essentially double what it was ten years ago and if the projections continue to add $10 million to the cap every year, they will be double.

If you look at Tannehill’s contract, the next two years is very affordable and it will still be in the range of the top paid Super Bowl QBs until 2020. The only Super Bowl quarterbacks to have cap hits over 10% of the cap are 1994 Steve Young (13.08%), 1995 Brett Favre (10.25%), 2001 Drew Bledsoe (10.29%), 2006 Peyton Manning (10.36%), 2011 Eli Manning (11.75%), and 2014 Tom Brady (11.13%). Of course, Bledsoe was on the bench in 2001, so Tom Brady had to provide that level of value for the Patriots, which is pretty astounding.

Do I think that Tannehill can provide a similar value that Steve Young produced during that MVP season? Possibly, but what’s going to be critical is securing talent around him and on defense with him and Suh taking up such large percentages of the cap.

When I analyze the 2015 Dolphins, I see a team that could seriously contend for a title because they have Tannehill and Suh on lower cap figures this season. This has allowed them to have a stronger team around them, but they are a very top heavy spending team, and that doesn’t allow them to build the most equitable and deep roster.

Figure 2: 2015 Dolphins Top 30

2015 Dolphins Top 30 5:21:15

When you look at that, you do see that their spending at the top isn’t off the Super Bowl averages, but when you get into the lower half of that Top 30, you can see that there’s pretty high spending in the middle of the cap that makes that Top 30 7.15% higher than the average Super Bowl champ. Maybe this is a good sign, with 25 players making $1 million or more, they do have quite a few players that should be valuable at that dollar figure, but it could be more of an issue, a sign they overspent and won’t have enough money to fill their roster out with good role players.

While I have some issues with their 2015 salary cap, I think they have a very strong team who are one of my dark horses to win the Super Bowl. It’s 2016, where everything falls apart for them. They will have the same issue that the 2014 Lions had with Suh, Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson taking up 38.56% of their cap, they will be too top-heavy to field a complete squad. The only, and I mean the only, way that the Dolphins can overcome their spending pattern in 2016 is by getting incredible value out of low-cost, high-value players like the 2013 Seahawks did, which is damn near impossible to replicate.

Figure 3: 2016 Dolphins Top 10

2016 Dolphins Top 10

The highest Top 10 spending for a Super Bowl champion was that 2013 Seahawks team with 61.31% of their cap dedicated to their Top 10. The highest cap charge for a champ was Steve Young’s 13.08% cap hit in 1994 and the highest for a defensive tackle was Warren Sapp’s 9.82%. The average top cap hit for a champion is 9.23% and the average for a champion’s top DT is 3.89%.

Suh’s contract is just silly:

Ndamukong Suh FULL Projected Cap Hit

There is literally no chance of a defensive tackle providing the kind of value that the Dolphins are asking Suh to provide at these numbers. This is a huge issue I see in your job as an NFL agent, helping your clients understand the balance between making as much money as you can and giving your team a chance to win. In 2016, 2018 and 2019, Suh’s contract is giving the Dolphins very little chance of winning.

It’s worth mentioning that with Tannehill and Suh’s contracts, according to Jason Fitzgerald, they are the first team in NFL history with two players with contracts that average over $19 million per season. Jason also points out that they have players at seven different positions that are in the Top 10 in terms of contract value at their position in 2015: Suh is the highest paid defensive tackle, Pouncey is the highest paid center, Tannehill is the sixth highest paid quarterback, Cameron is the sixth highest paid tight end, Reshad Jones Is the sixth highest paid safety, Albert is the eighth highest paid left tackle, and Misi is the ninth highest paid outside linebacker.

Here is the total cap hit when you add Suh and Tannehill’s contracts together:

Suh and Tannehill Total Cap Hit

At 21.64% of the 1994 salary cap, Steve Young and Jerry Rice were the highest cap duo in Super Bowl history at 21.64% of the cap, which is less than four seasons of Suh and Tannehill.

So to close this all out, they gave Tannehill a solid contract if they believe that a) he is going to become an elite quarterback and b) the cap will go up by at least $10 million per season. If the cap does not go up by at least $10 million per season, then the Dolphins are literally dead in the water with Suh and Tannehill’s contracts. There is just no way that they can overcome paying two players 25-30% of their salary cap every season. I really don’t know how they plan on building a team with two players already slated to take up so much of their cap in the coming years

In a vacuum, Tannehill’s contract is perfect, I believe he’ll be a very good player and he’ll grow into the contract. Could they have gotten him for less money? I think so, I think something with cap figures closer 8-9% of the cap with more guaranteed money would have been a better move for the team and could have even given him more security. I think the NFL has fully realized the importance of having one of the 10-15 best quarterbacks in the league or else your franchise is in trouble.

With that said, outside of 2015, the Dolphins are in BIG trouble financially because you just can not invest that much money in two players, it’s not feasible as the 49ers are the only team to win a Super Bowl with a Top 2 over 20% and that was largely because they got so many great players for low-cost. Players like Deion Sanders and Ken Norton Jr. could have gotten more money elsewhere, but they wanted to be on one of the best teams in the NFL. Sanders was offered a four-year deal worth $17.1 million by the Saints, but he took the one-year deal worth $1,134,000 from the 49ers in hopes of that championship. They also reworked 17 players contracts in December of 2013 to prepare themselves for the beginning of the salary cap era.

A side note on Sanders, that was such a big move for the Deion Sanders brand long-term. Imagine if he took that four-year deal with the Saints. He would have made more money in that first season, but he knew that he could get another long-term contract after the year with the 49ers, which he did with Dallas. In doing it this way, he ended up with two Super Bowls rather than the zero he would have ended up with in New Orleans. A great long term move for his brand and a large part of how we look at him today.

The Dolphins Super Bowl window is this season, after that, they’re screwed. I just don’t know how they even build a team in 2016 with 71.32% of their team invested in their Top 10 players. Even if they were to cut some of them, they all have over $1 million in dead money with half of them with dead money hits that would be about half of their cap number. I have no idea what the Dolphins are trying to do with these crazy cap figures as it will be damn near impossible to field a good team around that Top 10.

If I’m a general manager, I would definitely use the Super Bowl averages and figures from various teams to help guide me towards the exact kind of team that I want to build. I wouldn’t copy the figures verbatim, but I would use them to help me create the roster I want.

I also would make sure to understand the projections for the NFL’s salary cap, this is critical. If you can accurately project the NFL salary cap three, five or even ten years into the future, you’ve got an incredible advantage on the teams that can’t. Say that the cap goes up by $15 million each year, then the Dolphins will have much more space than I’m projecting on both of these contracts and, as I’ve already said, if the cap goes up by less than $10 million, they’re in trouble.

By 2027, at plus $10 million per season, which is the current rate of salary cap growth, the salary cap will be $263 million per team. When you multiply that by 32 teams, which means the league-wide salary cap will be $8.416 BILLION. This is actually slightly below Roger Goodell’s goal of $27 billion in league revenues as players only take about half of the revenues.

At 3% of contracts, NFL agents could make $252.48 million in 2027 alone and that does not include signing bonuses, which are a huge part of player earnings.

Definitely trying to get a nice sized piece of that pie in my career as an agent!

Tweet me: @ZackMooreNFL

If you work for a team themed site or any other kind of football site and you have some cap questions you want answered, always feel free to reach out to Caponomics@gmail.com!

If you liked the kind of cap analysis that went into this article, please e-mail me at Caponomics@gmail.com, so that you are added to our e-mail list and get some bonus finished chapters as they become available. A couple weeks ago, I sent out our chapter analyzing the 2000 Ravens. Coming soon will be the 2014 Patriots, 2014 Lions and 2014 Steelers.

Caponomics is a book that analyzes the Super Bowl champions from the last 21 seasons, creates theories based on this analysis and then uses those theories to discuss why 2014 teams were or were not successful.

  • McGeorge

    Why is the cap growing at 10MM per year? I would have thought it would be tied to TV revenue, and contracts are bid for several years at a time.
    Don’t the teams have a good idea of where that money is coming from, so they should be able to make good projections?

    If the Dolphins draft well they can compete, but I can’t see them winning a super bowl in 2016. For that to happen they need to find Richard Sherman in the 5th round, plus another couple of stud starters. And Tannehill’s got to take a big step forward.

    Like Geno Smith will do this year 😉

    (he’ll likely be gone after this year)

    • Derek Lamarr

      It’s only grown at $10m for two years. Before that, it stagnated for four years. To me, it seems to mirror an economic recovery model. Several years of stagnation followed by a short period of rapid growth to “catch up” to where it would be if it never stagnated.

      • McGeorge

        You have a good point.
        And 10MM compared to 143MM is around 7%, so it doesn’t seem unreasonable, though I could see it going up a little less.