When the 2018 season ended, Miami Dolphins officials said publicly that they were still evaluating the quarterback position and how it related to former starter Ryan Tannehill. But with Tannehill not hearing from new head coach Brian Flores or general manager Chris Grier, the answer was obvious. By that point, Tannehill and his agent Pat Dye had begun doing their research.
"We were proactively looking at situations around the league and what we thought represented the best opportunity to get on the field," Dye, of SportsTrust Advisors, said this week. "It didn't matter if it was on planet Mars, he wanted the opportunity to be a starter."
There just weren't many spots. The Denver Broncos traded for Joe Flacco. The Washington Redskins traded for Case Keenum. Everyone knew the Jacksonville Jaguars were expected to sign Nick Foles. Miami was looking for a fresh start, but seemed intent on trading, not cutting, Tannehill; it was complicated.
What Tannehill was looking for was this: A place where the starter was either injured or vulnerable, a team willing to trade for him, a Dolphins organization that would pay a chunk of the contract, and a system that benefited him.
"Jon Robinson the [Titans] GM seemed intrigued," Dye said, "But he wasn't over the top. You could just tell he liked the player and how he would fit."
Dye and Tannehill had identified Tennessee because Mariota had not made it through a season injury-free and because his performance had not earned a multi-year extension. Obviously, the organization didn't seen what they needed to see.
From the Titans' perspective, as one source explained, this was all about Mariota's injury history, not performance. If Mariota got hurt, who could step in and do more than just function? They wanted a high-level backup and considered everyone. The day before Tannehill was traded, the move became easier because Teddy Bridgewater re-signed with the New Orleans Saints.
When Robinson talked to Grier, the talks moved quickly. The two sides looked at several backup QB deals in the past, Miami was looking for either a third- or a fourth-round draft pick and was willing to pay some of Tannehill's salary. Eventually, they settled on Tannehill and a sixth for the Dolphins' fourth and seventh.
Then came the salary. No one was going to honor his original deal of more than $17 million, but the two sides did discuss a two-year deal at first. That became too complicated and in 24 hours, they had a trade with a reworked one-year deal.
The contract ended up as a one-year, $7 million deal with the Dolphins paying a $5 million signing bonus and Tennessee covering the rest. Based on incentives, it can be worth up to $12 million-plus, and here is how:
» $250K in a roster bonus if he's on the 46-man roster for 13 games.
» $250K for a passer rating of 92.8 with a minimum of 224 attempts. This can become $500K with a 94.0 rating, $750K with a 95.0 rating and $1 million with a rating of better than 96.0.
» $500K with 2,250 passing yards. This escalates to $750K with 2,750 passing yards and becomes $1 million if he eclipses 3,000.
» $250K with 18 passing TDs, but that becomes $500K with 20 TD passes, $750K with 23 passing TDs, and $1 million with 25 passing TDs.
» $100,000 for each game during the season that he participates more than 50 percent of the plays (up to $1.8 million total awards) provided his team achieves statistical improvements in categories such as touchdowns, total offense, net yards, sacks allowed, etc compared to the 2016 season. He can also earn this with individual improvements in categories such as TDs, completion percentage, etc.
»$25K per game that the team wins and he participates more than 50 percent, with the maximum award being $400K.
Meanwhile, the Titans have Mariota as the backup now, and if teams call to try to trade for him, they'd listen -- like any other player. But that seems far-fetched based on his salary of $20.9 million, so it seems he'll be the backup and be ready. As for Tannehill?
"It looks like we made the right decision and the plan is working," Dye said. "But Ryan will be the first to tell you, he's got to go do it."