Can Smith's contract impact Tannehill?

The Kansas City Chiefs made headlines over the weekend when they signed quarterback Alex Smith to a four-year contract averaging $17 million per season with $45 million guaranteed. It’s a lot of money for a quarterback not considered elite or even great. In fact, some football observers believe Smith is a middle-of-the-pack quarterback.

So what does it mean for the Miami Dolphins and third-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill? It means plenty. Allow me to explain.

The Dolphins are in the third year of Tannehill’s rookie contract. Miami is fortunate to only spend a modest base amount this season in salary and bonus -- just $1.52 million -- for a starting quarterback due to the collective bargaining agreement. By comparison, even backup quarterback Matt Moore makes more money ($4 million) than Tannehill this season.

But at some point soon that will change, and this is where it gets tricky for Miami. The going rate for solid-to-great starting quarterbacks is going through the roof. Recent examples such as Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton and Smith could be bad news for Miami.

Who is to say Tannehill cannot reach the middle-of-the-pack level of Dalton and Smith very soon? Tannehill already is close to these two aforementioned quarterbacks after two seasons. He’s only lacking experience and playoff appearances.

If Tannehill had a solid statistical season and leads the Dolphins to the playoffs in 2014, could he command a salary ranging from $15 million to $17 million next year? It’s not out of the realm of possibility. Imagine how much that would eat up Miami’s cap space and make it more difficult to build a successful team.

Whether you agree or disagree with inflated quarterback salaries, the high going rate for the position is here to stay. Tannehill is not Peyton Manning or Tom Brady. But in today’s NFL, Tannehill doesn’t need to be.

Being Alex Smith or Andy Dalton or Jay Cutler apparently is good enough for at least $15 million per season -- and Tannehill could be knocking on that door.