DAVIE, Fla. – The image of Laremy Tunsil taking a bong hit from a gas mask that surfaced on draft night in 2016 didn’t just tank his draft stock, and make the Ole Miss offensive lineman infamous.
The leaked video, and failed extortion attempt also raised questions about Tunsil’s maturity, which continues to linger as he begins his fourth season with the Miami Dolphins, who selected him 13th overall after benefiting from his draft-day slide.
Tunsil has worked hard to move past that nightmarish night, and to extinguish concerns about his maturity, which has flared up from time to time during his pro career.
This season, the Dolphins’ starting left tackle understands the stakes have been raised because not only is he playing for his next contract, but he’s being called on to step up as a leader in 2019.
As one of the Dolphins’ most talented players and the focal point of Miami’s offensive line, Tunsil knows it’s time to grow up.
“Year 4 is more of a leadership standpoint,” Tunsil said. “That’s one thing I’ve got to learn and take that role day-by-day. I’ve just got to learn it and I’ll get it.”
Tunsil’s teammates have noticed he’s turning a corner, and not just on the field, where he’s viewed as one of the NFL’s best left tackles following last year’s dominant performance when he only allowed one sack in the 15 games he played.
“He’s been good. He has been more vocal,” said Jesse Davis, the Dolphins’ starting right guard. “He’s been a quiet guy since I’ve been here. Now he’s speaking up and taking command of this line. It’s been great.”
If everything stays on the present course, with Tunsil pushing to become a Pro Bowler and one of the NFL’s elite offensive linemen, he’s the next in line to receive a major payday from the Dolphins.
He’s slated to earn $2.15 million this season, and will make roughly $10.4 million in 2020 since the Dolphins picked up the fifth-year option of his contract, which is only available to first-round picks.
But the goal for all NFL players is to get a long-term deal, and Tunsil’s eligible for one this season. His goal is to become one of the highest-paid players at his position, which would require an annual salary in the $15-16 million a year range.
Dallas Cowboys left tackle Tyron Smith, who landed an eight-year, $97.6 million deal in 2014, owns the largest contract for an offensive lineman, and Tennessee Titans’ Taylor Lewan sets the bar for the most guaranteed money ($50 million) and largest annual salary ($16 million).
Tunsil will likely push to get past both those figures if he has another solid season this year.
When asked if he has talked to his agent about getting a new deal from the Dolphins, Tunsil sidestepped discussing business.
“That’s not a concern for me right now,” Tunsil said. “I’m just trying to be the best that I can be, help the team any way I can, and just keep it going day by day. … I’m going to let my actions talk.”
When asked about his desire to be with the Dolphins, a franchise that’s clearly rebuilding, Tunsil endorsed that notion.
“I would love to be with this organization the rest of my career,” he said. “That’s a goal for everybody.”
Each year Tunsil has turned the volume up on his game. He had a solid rookie season in 2016 playing left guard, but struggled in Year 2 making the transition to left tackle.
Last year, Josh Sitton taught Tunsil how to study film and opponents and that tutelage allowed him to put together a season that got him recognized by NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger as one of the NFL’s top offensive linemen.
“The set is the most consistent thing he does. In fact, it might be the best (pass protection) set of every left tackle in the NFL,” Baldinger said in a nearly six-minute film breakdown that showered Tunsil with praise. “It’s rare to ever see Tunsil on the ground.”
However, Baldinger pointed out Tunsil must improve as a run blocker and become more forceful at driving his opponent backwards.
“He can block with more power, and he can get lower in the run game,” said Baldinger, who started 47 games in 11 seasons during his NFL career. “But at age 24, I believe Laremy Tunsil is the best left tackle in the game.”
This season, Tunsil hopes to prove that and benefit from the fruits of his labor.
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