Take comparisons between Andrew Luck and Ryan Tannehill, two of the five current starting QBs drafted in 2012. This spring, Tannehill became the first of the group to sign a contract extension, and punter Pat McAfee was quick to suggest his Colts teammate was worth a lot more.
“Today’s market showed that a 25-25 record gets you 96 million American dollars,” McAfee tweeted. “Andrew’s about to own a team I think.”
Tannehill is actually 23-25 with the Dolphins. McAfee made a typo in his rush to offer an opinion on how the quarterbacks of 2012 stack up, an ongoing debate that began even before that year’s draft.
They’ve collectively thrown more than 6,600 passes in three seasons. Luck is the best so far. Seattle’s Russell Wilson has exceeded expectations, Robert Griffin III has fallen short of them. Tannehill has made slow, steady progress.
Griffin and Nick Foles carry the biggest question marks into 2015.
“By and large, it’s pretty much as advertised,” said longtime NFL power broker Bill Polian, a 2015 NFL Hall of Fame inductee. “You’ve got two guys who have performed awfully well, two where you could say the grade is incomplete, and one, Tannehill, who keeps getting better. That’s about the way the draft typically goes.”
Polian wants to see a larger body of work before drawing final conclusions. But it’s safe to say the Colts feel good about their much-scrutinized decision to take Luck over 2011 Heisman Trophy winner Griffin with the top overall pick. Peyton Manning won one Super Bowl in Indianapolis, and his successor is so talented the Colts talk of multiple titles with Luck.
“Since my first day in this building that has been the goal – to win the Super Bowl, and try to win another,” Luck said. “Obviously it’s a lot easier said than done, but that’s what we work for.”
Luck has started all 48 games, advancing Indy one step deeper in the playoffs each year. In 2014 he set a Colts single-season record with 4,761 yards passing and had 40 touchdown passes. Now he’s surrounded by the most talented offensive cast of his career.
“Thus far Andrew is everything that everybody thought he would be,” Polian said. “And the sky’s the limit.”
In contrast to Luck, Griffin’s career has been a roller-coaster in danger of derailing. Taken second overall, he was 2012 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year as Washington won the NFC East, but he’s since battled injuries and been benched by two coaches.
It’s unclear how much the athletic, freestyling Griffin will stay in the pocket this season.
“You have got to be true to who you are,” he said in June. “Right now I’m a 25-year-old young man who can do a lot of different things, so I’m not going to limit myself to just being a dropback passer.”
The same issue inspired doubts about Wilson. He’s answered detractors by staying healthy and winning a lot – 36-12 in the regular season and 1-1 in the Super Bowl.
Wilson has the best passer rating (98.6) and touchdown-interception ratio (72-26) among the 2012 QBs. He has also benefited from the best supporting cast, but it’s clear Wilson was a steal with the 75th overall pick.
“He gives us such a dynamic approach to the quarterback position,” coach Pete Carroll said. “He’s a perfect fit for us.”
While the Dolphins have locked up Tannehill, Wilson is in the final year of his rookie contract, making $1.5 million with no guarantee beyond this season.
Foles was a third-round afterthought, too, taken 88th by the Eagles. In 2013 his 27-2 touchdown-interception ratio set an NFL record, his passer rating of 119.2 was third highest in league history, and Philadelphia won the NFC East a year after going 4-12.
He backslid last year, throwing 10 interceptions in eight games before breaking a collarbone. An offseason trade sent Foles to the Rams, who haven’t had a winning record since 2003.
“That’s the ultimate factor in judging quarterbacks – winning games,” Tannehill said. “We’re here to win. That’s what we get paid to do.”
And Tannehill has fallen short. Wilson won a Super Bowl, and Luck, Griffin and Foles won division titles, but Tannehill has yet to oversee a winning season, plagued by poor protection and enduring 139 sacks, by far the most in the NFL in that span. He has showed admirable durability, starting every game since being drafted eighth overall, and last year set a franchise record for completions while throwing for 4,045 yards and 27 touchdowns.
The Dolphins rewarded Tannehill with a $96 million, six-year deal through 2020, making him their first franchise quarterback since Dan Marino.
“They put their money where their mouth is,” Tannehill said.
The Colts, meanwhile, exercised the fifth-year option on Luck, who will make $7 million this year. Team owner Jim Irsay has repeatedly promised to lock up Luck before he hits free agency after the 2016 season, and knows it will be costly.
Which gets back to the point raised by McAfee: If Tannehill is worth $96 million, what is Luck worth?
“That’s a good question,” Polian said with a laugh. “Frankly, I don’t know the answer. We’re going to have to find out next year, I would guess.”