Yet almost five years after the '08 draft, the Dolphins let Long -- who at 27 is entering his prime -- hit the open market without even offering him his $15.4 million franchise tag salary. Long ultimately became the 11th free agent offensive tackle to sign this offseason, inking a four-year deal with the Rams that could be worth as much as $36 million. But the contract came after he lingered on the market for a week, with his old team as the only other real suitor.
So why the dramatic drop in urgency and currency for such a productive player? Actually, it's not Long who has lost so much value -- it's his position. The left tackle, once considered an essential building block for every franchise, has seen its importance erode in this era of read-option spread offenses. That's something NFL teams with high draft picks need to consider on April 25, when two left tackles, Texas A&M's Luke Joeckel and Central Michigan's Eric Fisher, are expected to be top-five picks.