I think it comes down to where you and I place the importance of the position. I simply don't believe that it is one of the most important positions any longer. In the 80's and early 90's (and before), yes, it was. No longer. All I need there is a decent starter. Not even a good one, just decent (please spare me the extremes of Arizona and Colombo). Get me somebody that can start consistently and do his job. If we have to overpay a little, I guarantee it's not as much as Long. If the other OT free agents are asking for more money than Long (they won't be), fine, move Martin over and draft an RT in the middle rounds. Pick up an average OT via FA for depth.
Its not necessarily the importance of the positions, its how hard it is to replace a decent starter at that position. Look at how many free agent OT (thats LT and RT) that hit free egency last year, and tell me how many of those guys could play in a ZBS and are capable of starting on our team long term? I counted 1. That leaves us to the draft, how many OT were drafted in the middle rounds this year that are starting and playing good? I count zero.
You franchise him and then what? No one is going to trade for him. you either resign yourself to paying long or your resign yourself to 2008 was a waste of a draft.
And again, you can make that exact same argument (how hard it is to find one) for literally EVERY position. Hell, we listened to that same nonsense regarding the QB position every single year. It's an excuse. Nothing more.
I think it might not be a bad idea to franchise Long and to give Yeatman or a low round draft pick a chance to to develop into a starter for 2014.
I have confidence that Martin will prove to be fine at LT over the next 4 games (provided he can get past A. Smith this Sunday without too much carnage). At that point, we can have a more informed discussion about the cost/benefit of franchising Jake Long given our vacancy at RT, not LT.
And I dont think you can make the case for every position. For example, RBs are some of the least paid players because they are easier to find, yet they are some of the most important players on their teams. OTs aren't paid more than RBs because they are a more important position, they are paid more becuase they are harder to find.
Let him walk. Either he accepts a pay reduction commensurate to his performance or he goes.