One of the biggest stories of the NFL news cycle heading into free agency revolved around the Tennessee Titans re-signing quarterback Ryan Tannehill to a four-year, $118 million contract. Tannehill had spent the 2019 season playing on a one-year prove-it deal with the Titans and, as the numbers on this deal demonstrate, he proved it. However, the structure of the deal has some interesting quirks, offering potential “get-outs” for the Titans along the way while also ensuring that Tannehill still gets paid handsomely. Let’s dive into the specifics of Tannehill’s new contract.
How does Tannehill’s new contract shape up?
First and foremost, the $118 million breaks down as $98 million in salary and a $20 million signing bonus. The deal places Tannehill ninth in the league in terms of average salary per year, just behind Matt Ryan and ahead of Jacoby Brissett. The $20 million signing bonus and $42 million of his salary are guaranteed on the day of signing, with a further guarantee being triggered at various points during the contract.
In terms of how the numbers work for the Titans cap space – if Tannehill plays out the four years of the deal, then the $20 million signing bonus will be split evenly across the four years at $5 million per year. However, if at any point the Titans decide to cut Tannehill during the contract, the remaining bonus will count immediately against the following season’s cap space. The table below from Over The Cap shows how the money is spread across the four years.
But things get really interesting when you look closer at the salary structure of this contract. The first two years of Tannehill’s deal are guaranteed, but the third and fourth years are not. However, if Tannehill is on the Titans roster on the fifth day of the 2021 season, then his salary for the third year (2022) also becomes guaranteed. Essentially, that means that Tannehill’s contract could be a one-year $62 million contract if he performs so terribly in 2020 that the Titans decide to move on from him before the second season. In that situation, Tannehill would count $39.5 million against the cap in 2021 but nothing in 2022 and 2023. In this scenario, the Titans would ultimately save $46 million in cash across the final two years, as well as $56 million in cap space in those final two years.
The other potential “get out” for the Titans comes after the third season. None of Tannehill’s money in the fourth year is guaranteed. He can, therefore, be cut at any time between the end of 2022 and the start of the 2023 season with only the remaining $5 million signing bonus counting against the cap. If that does arise, then Tannehill will have earned $91 million across the three years of the deal.
Is Tannehill’s new contract money well spent?
2019 was the best year of Tannehill’s career when it came to many categories. According to Pro Football Network’s Offensive Share Metric, Tannehill ranked first at the quarterback position. OSM shines a light on the true performance of an individual and is based on factors solely within their control, allowing us to see when a player has done all he can to make his team great. Tannehill’s performances led to him being named to the PFN All-Pro First team back in January. The top overall rating in the 2019 season also led to Tannehill being named as PFN’s top available free agent quarterback in 2020, though we know now he didn’t quite reach free agency before the Titans locked him down.
On top of posting the highest OSM grade of any quarterback, Tannehill led the league in yards per attempt (9.6), air yards per attempt (10.2), yards per completion (13.6) and quarterback rating (117.5). Additionally, his completion percentage (70.3), TD% (7.7) and interceptions (6) were the best figures he has posted in his career.
That is not to say Tannehill has not put up good numbers at other times in his career. His career with the Miami Dolphins was consistently solid without ever being spectacular. He completed more than 60% of his passes every year after his rookie year, only had an interception percentage greater than three twice, and had a quarterback rating above 80 in every year since his rookie year.
Injuries are what derailed his career with the Dolphins. Having played 16 games in his first four years with the franchise, he managed to play in just 50% of the Dolphins games in his final three years there. That was largely thanks to losing an entire season after re-injuring his knee prior to the 2017 season. However, he also demonstrated incredible durability and toughness to play through an injury in 2018.
Overall, Tannehill’s 2019 numbers make his new contract with the Titans well deserved. Over the next four years, he could potentially earn more than he has earned combined in the previous eight years of his career ($77 million). However, 2019 was the anomaly in his career numbers and he has had a recent history of struggling with injuries. If we see a regression in 2020 or the injury bug bites him again over the next couple of years, then this contract could quickly begin to look bad for the Tennessee Titans.