So, here's the shortened story on Jake Long: The Left Tackle out of Michigan was the first overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft. He was taken by Bill Parcells to be the cornerstone of the Dolphins offensive line, and he's ended up in the Pro Bowl in each of his first four NFL seasons (and currently leads the Pro Bowl voting among AFC Tackles).
Long played in just 14 games last season, spraining his MCL late in the season and missing the final two games. Those were the first two missed games of his career. Yesterday, the Dolphins placed Long on IR with a torn tricep muscle, making this a second consecutive season that ends early for Long due to injury. This, and several other reasons, have led the Dolphins to possibly look elsewhere for a Tackle in 2013. I'll let Kevin Nogle from The Phinsider explain:
Long has not been playing to the elite level most expected from the 2008 first overall pick this season. He has been selected to the Pro Bowl every season in which he has been in the league, and currently leads all tackles in AFC Pro Bowl voting for this year.
However, his future in Miami remains in doubt. Long becomes a free agent after this season, and is expected to look for a contract making him one of the top paid offensive linemen in the league. However, with the down turn in his play, and the repeated injuries lately, including knee, shoulder, and back problems, a torn biceps muscle last year, and now the torn triceps muscle, Long could prove too costly for the Dolphins moving forward.
According to Jackson' sources, the Dolphins have not ruled out any option with Long, including using the franchise tag on him. Due to Long's salary this season, his franchise tag number would escalate to $15.4 million next year, which would be difficult for the Dolphins to commit to one player as they look to add weapons around rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
If I'm reading this situation right, Long wants to be paid like an elite Tackle despite the fact that he no longer performs like an elite Tackle and shows signs of breaking down physically. I can see why the Dolphins would let him walk, and I could also see why a team like the Chargers would be interested in bringing him in.
First of all, the notion that Jake Long wants to get paid big money is funny. Why? Because he's already the highest paid Offensive Tackle in the league.
Secondly, the big problem here is probably Jared Gaither. Can the Chargers really afford to sign Long with Gaither still on the team? Well.....yes, probably. However, they would probably have to ttrade Jeromey Clary for spare parts (which makes sense since Gaither would move to RT with Long's arrival anyway). Here's how it breaks down.
Gaither: $2.6 mil in 2012, $6.5 mil in 2013 ($6 mil cap hit if released before 2013)
Clary: $4.5 mil in 2012, $5.7 mil in 2013 ($3.4 mil cap hit if released before 2013)
Long: $12.8 mil in 2012
The first year of a big contract usually isn't all that hard on the cap, because signing bonuses are awesome, but you're still looking at probably $20 million split between three Tackles right there. You can't do that, unless....
A Crazy Idea
The San Diego Chargers, in the offseason, need to revamp their offensive line. Tyronne Green has been mostly terrible at Left Guard and Jared Gaither has been absent at Left Tackle. Jeromey Clary at Right Tackle is something that many Chargers fans are looking to never see again. Many actually think that Clary is better suited to play a Guard position, due to his good strength and footwork (and his below-average speed and quickness).
Anyone see where I'm going with this?
LT Jake Long
LG Louis Vasquez
C Nick Hardwick
RG Jeromey Clary
RT Jared Gaither
I know, I know, we're still relying on Gaither to be healthy in this scenario. The good news is that if (when) he goes down with an injury, Mike Harris will no longer be protecting Philip Rivers' blind side. That has to help, right?
Final Answer: Yes
Someone is going to sign Jake Long to a long-term deal this offseason. It could payoff huge, with them getting one of the 5 best Tackles in the game, or it could end with him being very Jared Gaither-like. That's a risk that the San Diego Chargers might have to take if they don't want to wait 3 years to rebuild their offensive line through the draft (and waste Rivers' prime in the process).
The added benefits of moving Gaither to a less-important spot and moving Clary somewhere the seems to better fit his skillset make this move an almost no-brainer. This is the right way for Dean Spanos to spend his money this offseason.