Jaylen Waddle contract extension: Why the Dolphins paid star wide receiver before Tua Tagovailoa

This week, the Miami Dolphins agreed to a lucrative extension with one of their stars on offense. It wasn’t the player everyone was expecting, as wide receiver Jaylen Waddle grabbed a three-year contract extension worth $84.75 million, while quarterback Tua Tagovailoa continues to await his pay day. 

Why did Waddle get the bag before his quarterback? Especially with Miami already paying Tyreek Hill top three money? One of the reasons is because this contract extension was easier to draw up than Tagovailoa’s. 

Waddle is a young star in the league, and just became eligible for a contract extension this offseason. Like the quarterback market, the wide receivers market is continuing to explode — whether we are talking about the cream of the crop with guys like A.J. Brown and Amon-Ra St. Brown, or “WR2s” like DeVonta Smith. Why not lock in a player you want to keep long term as soon as you possibly can, because that asking price will just continue to go up if you wait — especially with all the receivers up for new deals. The same point can be made at the quarterback position, but that Tagovailoa extension was always going to include more money.

The Dolphins made Waddle the No. 4 highest-paid wideout in average annual salary ($28.25 million) and No. 7 highest-paid receiver in total value ($84.75 million). When Tagovailoa puts pen to paper on his new deal, his average will likely put him in the top three of highest-paid quarterbacks — somewhere north of $50 million per year. 

CBS Sports lead NFL insider Jonathan Jones has said he believes the Dolphins will pay Tagovailoa. He has speculated the contract could be “a dollar more” than Justin Herbert’s deal signed last offseason — a five-year, $262.5 million extension that includes an AAV of $52.5 million. At the time, that contract made the Los Angeles Chargers quarterback the highest-paid signal-caller in the league. He was passed just months later by Joe Burrow of the Cincinnati Bengals ($55 million AAV), and then Jared Goff of the Detroit Lions, who signed a four-year, $212 million extension earlier this month ($53 million AAV). 

In 2023, Tagovailoa completed a career-high 69.3% of his passes, became the first Dolphin to lead the NFL in passing since Dan Marino with 4,624 yards, threw a career-high 29 touchdowns and made the Pro Bowl. Yes, the Dolphins struggled against playoff teams and laid an egg in the wild-card round, but there’s no debating Tagovailoa has gotten better and better under coach Mike McDaniel. In fact, Tagovailoa has improved upon his games won as starter, passing yards and touchdowns thrown in all four of his NFL seasons.

The quarterback contract that will end up being one of the most lucrative deals in NFL history is the tougher contract to figure out. That’s probably why Waddle’s deal came before Tagovailoa’s. Did it take away some cap space from Miami? Sure. The Dolphins were already over the cap for 2025, but front offices have creative ways to get around that issue. 

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