The old saying in the NFL used to be "If you have two quarterbacks, then you really have no quarterback." The implication of that saying, of course, was that if you don't have a quarterback who is clear-cut good enough to seize the job, then whoever wins the job isn't good enough to win at a high level for you anyway.
That is the Texans' current situation. They have Ryan Mallett and Brian Hoyer competing for the starting role, both on very modest second contracts, a combined cap hit of under $8 million for 2015. And while there's a really, really good chance that neither Mallett nor Hoyer is the solution long-term to win a Super Bowl, I'd still rather have the Texans' quarterback situation than the blueprint to which the Miami Dolphins have now relegated themselves.
In Miami, they have a clear-cut starting quarterback, and his name is Ryan Tannehill. Yesterday afternoon, the Dolphins announced that they have signed Tannehill to a contract extension. The deal tacks another four seasons onto his existing deal, which already ran through 2016 after the team picked up the fifth-year option on Tannehill's rookie deal a few weeks ago. The total deal would be worth $96 million through 2020, if he made it to the end, and guarantees Tannehill $45 million, but only for injury (which is the new way these deals are getting done).
In real terms, Tannehill is guaranteed $21.5 million over the next two years, a slight sweetener over what the final year of his rookie deal (2015) and his fifth-year option (2016) would have paid him anyway. Now those two seasons are fully guaranteed. After that, nothing is guaranteed. The Dolphins would pay another $3.5 million if Tannehill is on the roster in March 2016, and they have him at $14.475 million for 2017, which is less than the going rate for a franchise QB, and then the expensive years kick in from 2018 to 2020, around $19 million per season.
On the surface, the Dolphins have done a smart business move if Tannehill takes another significant leap in his play over the next couple of years. To be fair, he's improved each of the past three seasons. However, the final leap, into the "Super Bowl threat" bracket, is the hardest one.
More likely, the Dolphins have probably firmly put themselves where teams such as the Bengals, Falcons and Chiefs have put themselves — with a slightly better than average signal caller who needs everything around him to be operating at optimal efficiency in order to win. They will tell you that the Tannehill contract is now risk, that they can eject anytime after these first couple of seasons of the deal and get out unscathed.
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However, saying that fails to factor in two things — 1) the opportunity cost of ignoring possible better solutions at quarterback while they try to figure out if this guy can be "the man," and 2) the emotional attachment to investing in something and trying like crazy to make it work. In other words, saying you can eject Tannehill any time and then actually ejecting him are two different things completely.
Which brings me back around to the whole "when you have two QBs, you have no QBs" premise I allude to off the top. In today's NFL, where some teams — yes you, Bengals, Falcons and Chiefs — feel compelled to throw top dollar and emotional buy-in to even the most painfully average of quarterbacks, where protecting the merely competent trumps the seeking of true greatness, I would argue that "having an average QB" is the new "having no QB."
Texans fans know this. We had to endure Matt Schaub. In today's NFL, it's a lot easier for teams to punt two mediocre quarterbacks than it is for them to say they screwed up on an average one. Miami will find this out the hard way.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast.