Agent's Take: How Dolphins can effectively compensate Tyreek Hill with a market-value contract

The Miami Dolphins’ most critical outstanding financial matter is a resolution with Tua Tagovailoa’s contract. The Pro Bowl quarterback is in a contract year.

However, there is another financial issue that should be addressed before the 2024 regular season starts. It’s Tyreek Hill’s contract situation. Hill reportedly has been looking for a new contract since the 2023 season ended. 

The five-time First Team All-Pro has three years left on the four-year, $120 million contract extension he signed in March 2022 when he was acquired from the Kansas City Chiefs. On paper, Hill’s 2022 contract extension made him the NFL’s first $30 million-per-year non-quarterback. He is scheduled to make $19.765 million this year, $22.935 million in 2025 and $45 million in 2026 for a total of $87.7 million over the three years. The last of the guaranteed money in Hill’s contract is this year.

Realistically, Hill has a three-year extension for $75 million. The $45 million in the final contract year artificially inflates the value of the deal. Hill was tied with Philadelphia Eagles wideout A.J. Brown as the NFL’s second-highest-paid wide receiver at $25 million per year when the 2024 league year began in mid-March. 

Five wide receivers have signed deals at or above Hill’s $25 million per mark since then. The expected extensions for Brandon Aiyuk and CeeDee Lamb with the San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys, respectively, should easily exceed $25 million per year.

Most recently, Justin Jefferson reset the wide receiver market and replaced 49ers edge rusher Nick Bosa as the NFL’s highest-paid non-quarterback in the process. The Minnesota Vikings signed Jefferson to a four-year, $140 million contract extension, averaging $35 million per year, during the early part of June. 

Jefferson’s deal established new wide receiver records for overall guarantees and the amount fully guaranteed at signing, respectively, with $110 million and $88.743 million. The $88.743 million is also the most ever fully guaranteed at signing for a non-quarterback. 

Equally notable, the Dolphins signed 2021 first-round pick Jaylen Waddle to a three-year, $84.75 million extension with $76 million in guarantees where $35,978,546 was fully guaranteed at signing. At $28.25 million per year, Waddle is the NFL’s fifth-highest-paid wide receiver although he isn’t Miami’s primary receiving option.

Miami’s top receiving threat is Hill, who has had the best two seasons of his eight-year NFL career after the trade. He is the league’s most productive wide receiver over the last two years, averaging 119 receptions, nearly 1,755 receiving yards and 10 touchdown catches. Hill was in position to break the single-season receiving yards record in 2023 until he was slowed by an ankle injury last December. He is the only player in NFL history to have more than 1,700 receiving yards in consecutive seasons.

The Dolphins don’t have to do anything financially for Hill this year. Ordinarily, NFL teams don’t revisit contracts with three years remaining. 

The Dolphins will have a difficult time justifying a hardline stance with Hill because of how cornerback Xavien Howard was treated. Howard wanted his contract redone in 2021 to reflect changing cornerback market conditions after a league-leading 10 interceptions in 2020. Previously, Howard barely moved the needle for a stagnant cornerback market when he signed an extension in 2019, averaging $15.05 million per year, to top Josh Norman’s $15 million per year from the 2016 deal he signed with the Washington Commanders.

The Dolphins didn’t do themselves any favors by paying Byron Jones, an inferior cornerback, more than Howard in 2020 free agency. Jones briefly became the NFL’s highest-paid cornerback with a five-year, $82.5 million contract, averaging $16.5 million per year.

The Dolphins had no interest in a renegotiation since there were four years left on Howard’s deal. Instead, some modifications were made to Howard’s contract, including the addition of $3.5 million in incentives. Howard’s 2022 base salary became fully guaranteed as well. Originally, just a little more than half had been guaranteed just for injury. He was also given assurances that a renegotiation would take place in early 2022 reflecting his 2021 performance and health.

Howard got the new contract he desired in April 2022 when he had three years remaining on his deal totaling $39,308,823. He was under contract for $90 million over five years after the renegotiation. 

Treating Hill like Howard could mean having him under contract for five years worth $150 million at the same $30 million per year of his current deal. Presumably, there wouldn’t be any more shenanigans where there’s an unrealistic salary in the last year, which would be 2028, for cosmetic purposes. 

Howard first two years, 2022 and 2023, were fully guaranteed in his new deal. A small portion of Howard’s third year or 2024 was guaranteed for injury at signing. The $4 million was set to be fully guaranteed on the third day of the 2024 league year. Howard was released a day before the $4 million became secure. The same could be done for Hill with contract guarantees.

The A.J. Brown approach

Another approach could be to borrow a page from the Eagles. Brown signed a three-year, $96 million extension in late April, averaging $32 million per year, which made him the NFL’s highest-paid wide receiver until Jefferson signed. Brown set a wide receiver record with $84 million in guarantees, which Jefferson shattered. The $51 million fully guaranteed at signing was the second-most ever for a wide receiver behind Hill’s $52.535 million.

The Eagles were proactive in eliminating a potential problem by giving Brown a new deal. It probably wasn’t going to sit too well with Brown that fellow Eagles wide receiver DeVonta Smith signed a three-year, $75 million extension during the middle of April, averaging the same $25 million per year as in his 2022 extension if his deal had been left intact. Brown’s 106 receptions last season were six fewer than Smith’s 2023 targets.  

Fortunately for the Dolphins, Hill’s stated priority is ensuring that he ends his career in Miami instead of being the league’s highest-paid wide receiver. For what it’s worth, Hill has mentioned wanting to help the Dolphins as much as he can with a new deal. “Being greedy ain’t going to help the team,” Hill recently said.

The Dolphins giving Hill a three-year extension like the Eagles did with Brown is a riskier proposition. Hill is a little more than 3 years older than Brown. Although Hill turned 30 in March, he isn’t showing signs of slowing down.

Another alternative is how the Las Vegas Raiders handled edge rusher Maxx Crosby’s dissatisfaction with his contract. Crosby became disgruntled after the Raiders paid defensive tackle Christian Wilkins more than the three-time Pro Bowler in free agency this year.

Wilkins replaced Crosby as the highest-paid defensive player on the Raiders when he signed a four-year, $110 million contract, averaging $27.5 million per year. The deal has $84.75 million in guarantees, of which $57.5 million was fully guaranteed at signing. Crosby signed a four-year extension, averaging $23.5 million per year, in 2022. Wilkins’ $57.5 million fully guaranteed at signing is $4.47 million more than the $53.03 million of overall guarantees in Crosby’s contract. 

The Raiders felt compelled to modify Crosby’s contract, even though he has three years remaining. Crosby is easily the Raiders’ best defensive player. He is also the team’s emotional leader.

Crosby had $5 million added to the three years left on his contract so he is making a total of $68.222 million from 2024 through 2026 instead of the $63.222 million that was originally in the deal. He gets a $6 million raise for 2024. Crosby’s 2025 compensation also increases by $1.198 million while his 2026 money decreases by $2.198 million. It wouldn’t be surprising for the raise to be a precursor to Crosby getting a new deal next offseason if he continues to play at a Pro Bowl level.

Final thoughts

At the very least, the Dolphins should be willing to redistribute some of the $45 million from 2026 to 2024 and 2025. For example, Hill’s 2026 salary could be lowered to $30 million where his 2024 compensation increases to $27.7 million from $19.765 million and 2025 goes from $22.935 million to $30 million. The $7.935 million salary increase for 2024 could be in the form a roster bonus due a couple of days after signing. Hill’s 2025 base salary, which is currently unsecured, would be a fully guaranteed $28.9 million. The other $1.1 million in 2025 compensation would be Hill’s existing $1 million third day of the 2025 league year roster bonus and $100,000 2025 workout bonus. 

Whether Hill would be placated with better cash flow and more security in his remaining three contract years in lieu of a Howard-type renegotiation or an extension similar to Brown’s remains to be seen. The Dolphins would run the risk of alienating their best player in using sanctity of contract as an excuse to do nothing for Hill this year when there hasn’t been adherence to that principle in the past.

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