ake Long's left triceps injury suffered Sunday against the New England Patriots means he's done for the 2012 season. The Dolphins placed Long on the injured reserve list today, effectively ending his season. The Dolphins have signed offensive tackle Patrick Brown and safety Tyrone Culver, on the team the past three seasons, was also re-signed. Defensive back Andreson Russell was also cut.
And the moves as they pertain to Long create all sorts of questions for the Dolphins.
In the short-term the Dolphins must figure out how to replace Long and how to replace the man who is replacing Long. Rookie right tackle Jonathan Martin moved from his starting right tackle to left tackle on Sunday and played well enough.
"I was making mistakes I hadn't made since high school, but that can be cleaned up," Martin said.
Indeed, filling the void at left tackle might not be a huge deal. Martin played left tackle at Stanford and was a solid LT prospect when he was drafted by the Dolphins in the second round. But the move creates something of a hole at right tackle.
The Dolphins on Sunday used Nate Garner to fill in at right tackle. But the team might also consider moving John Jerry to right tackle -- a position he played last year -- and filling in at right guard with Garner or someone else. (The latter is a less likely possibility because all the shuffling would put new starters at three positions rather than just two).
The interesting thing about this is it comes in a week the Dolphins face one of the top defensive fronts in the NFL so anything Miami does to fill the void left by Long's injury will be severely tested this weekend by the San Francisco 49ers.
Those are the short-term issues. The long-term issues are more problematic. And intriguing.
Long, you see, is unsigned after this season. So the Dolphins must decide what to do about a formerly elite left tackle who is not playing at that high level anymore and, indeed, seems to be steadily but surely breaking down as the years pass.
Do the Dolphins re-sign him to a long-term deal?
Do the Dolphins place the franchise tag on him for one year?
Do the allow Jake Long to simply walk away in free agency?
A highly-placed team source texted me Monday and said "all options available" and on the table to the team. There has been no decision to sign or not sign, franchise or not franchise Long at this moment. All options are open and the Dolphins will consider all of them. None have been eliminated at this point.
So let's go through them.
The franchise option: It would cost over $15 million to put the tag on Jake Long. He is obviously not worth it, not at his current level of play and recent injury history.
So why is this an option?
Franchising Long keeps him in Miami for at least one year. It basically rents him rather than buys him or allows him to leave. That means the Dolphins, a team that already has numerous holes on the roster, do not have to worry about filling another hole -- be it at left tackle or right tackle if Martin is moved to left tackle.
Also, Miami can afford it. If the Dolphins do not franchise Long and carry over their unused salary cap room, they will have over $40 million in cap space for 2013. That is a ton of cap room even for a team with 19 unsigned free agents. The projected cap figure is according to former NFL agent and National Football Post cap expert Joel Corry. Follow Joel on twitter (@corryjoel).
If the Dolphins franchise Long, they would have $25 million in salary cap space for 2013. That also is a lot of space.
Now, you might think of the $40 million number as Christmas because you envision signing Mike Wallace and Dwayne Bowe and Greg Jennings and then re-signing Brian Hartline and doing three or four other things. Stop. You know the Dolphins are not going to go nuts in free agency. They will add players. They're not adding a high-priced All-Star team. The philosophy Joe Philbin abides by is improving through the draft. General Manager Jeff Ireland would have to run directly counter to that to sign the All-Star team. And I'm not even sure Ireland believes in building a team through free agency.
The point is franchising Long -- regardless of what you think of the idea -- remains a possibility the Dolphins will weigh.
How about re-signing him to a long-term deal?
Well, Long is 27 years old. And he is established here in South Florida. He is a leader in the locker room. He's still a solid player even though he is no longer elite. He has value. He isn't a piece of scrap.
So it might be wise to offer him a bargain long-term deal. That is defined as something in the $6 million a year range. Yes, that would mean Long would have to take a nearly 50 percent pay cut. But it would also give him security for the next several years while also giving the Dolphins comfort about having Long for a while longer despite his recent injury history.
What seems totally out of the realm of possibility is the Dolphins signing Long to a record long-term deal. They did that once already when he was drafted No. 1 and immediately became the NFL's highest paid offensive lineman ever. And, as you see, Long is crawling to the end of that contract barely healthy.
Miami will not commit that mistake with a player showing signs of decline. (If they do, someone needs to be fired).
Long would certainly like this option. But the Dolphins would look foolish doing this if Long continues his decline and cannot even make it to the end of the deal. The Dolphins made this mistake with Vernon Carey and it didn't work out well.
The Dolphins could also let Long walk. There is precedence for letting the former No. 1 overall pick simply walk away once his rookie deal expires. The Houston Texans did exactly that in 2012. They survived quite well.
But the Dolphins don't have Houston's depth. The fact is letting Long walk creates a need in the draft or free agency. We shall see in the coming four weeks where that hole would be. If Martin plays well in that span, then the void won't be at left tackle.
Indeed, if Martin plays well, I'd say the chances of Long being back next season would be very small because it's much easier finding a right tackle than a left tackle. In many way, Martin has Long's future in his hands.
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