Miami Dolphins hedge their bets with Ryan Tannehill

Ryan Tannehill is a polarizing player.

On one hand, a quarterback with his skill set is intoxicating, but the other points to a rather ominous reality, the absence of a consistent winning culture.

The numbers say the Miami Dolphins spent their money wisely when they inked their fourth-year signal caller to a contract extension through the 2020 season on Monday.

The former Texas A&M star cashed in to the tune of $96 million over six years with $45 million in guarantees, but that’s a relative bargain compared to the top-of-the-market figure QBs like Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson and Cam Newton are sure to receive when they finally put pen back to paper.

And Mike Tannenbaum structured Tannehill’s deal smartly, ensuring that Miami can walk away virtually unscathed from a salary-cap standpoint if Tannehill’s performance drops off the table in two or three years.

Conversely, the former first-round pick will cash in to the tune of $19 million per year on the back end of the deal, a number that’s still more than palatable at the game’s most important position if Tannehill is performing at a high level.

The question will be what’s the Dolphins’ definition of high level?

From a purely statistical standpoint, Tannehill is probably already there after putting up some unique numbers that few others could match last season. He completed 66.4 percent (392-of-590) of his passes for 4,045 yards with 27 touchdowns and 12 interceptions for a passer rating of 92.8, and added 56
rushes for 311 yards and one touchdown.

That kind of dual-threat capability is the prototype in today’s NFL and Tannehill’s completions, attempts, completion percentage, passing yards, passing touchdowns, passer rating and rushing yards in 2015 were all career highs, indicating an ascending player.

“Signing Ryan to this deal is important to our franchise,” said Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey. “He is a proven quarterback in this league that combines a talented skill set with work ethic, passion, toughness, and a team first mentality. We are committed and believe in Ryan as our quarterback for the long-term and we are excited to be able to sign him to this extension.”

Proven is a tough sell because that very word is supposed to demonstrate the truth or existence of something by empirical evidence or argument.

Ryan Tannehill does a lot of things well, but a winning record has eluded the young QB.

Ryan Tannehill does a lot of things well, but a winning record has eluded the young QB.

If you want to compare Tannehill to the mean of NFL QBs, he is certainly proven. If you are trying to place the mantle of “franchise quarterback” on the Lone Star State native, however, not so fast.

“We are thrilled that we were able to sign Ryan to an extension,” said Tannenbaum, the Dolphins’ executive VP of football operations and Hickey’s boss. “He is an ascending talent, a team leader and checks all of the boxes you are looking for at the position.”

Correction — he checks all the boxes, save for one. Tannehill is only 23-25 as an NFL starter, the very definition of mediocrity, finishing 7-9 as a rookie and following that to with back-to-back 8-8 seasons.

Apologists can talk all they want about Tannehill’s shaky offensive lines, the move from his college coach Mike Sherman to the Chip Kelly-light Bill Lazor at offensive coordinator or the still relatively small sample size.

And it’s easy to stipulate that any QB gets more of the credit than they should when things are sailing along smoothly and shoulder more of the burden when things are off the rails but the truly great signal callers are defined by their ability to make those around them better.

It’s been the virtual birthright of Peyton Manning-led teams to win double-digit games, while Tom Brady’s clubs have taken 10-or-more for over a decade with the winning so innate that even Matt Cassel got it done the year Tom Terrific went down. Similarly Aaron Rodgers got one mulligan after replacing Brett Favre and was off to the races from there.

Luck has already won 33 games in three years and had the Colts in the AFC Championship Game last season, while no QB is the history of this game has won more in their first three seasons than Wilson, who already has a Super Bowl ring and was one play way from another.

Wipe out Tannehill’s rookie season when things are supposed to be difficult and you still have a win-one, lose-one QB.

The bottom line is that the exit polls are already in on Tannehill and they point toward the a damning result — ordinary.

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