NFL.com is reporting that the Miami Dolphins are mulling their options with Jake Long. According to this report, the Dolphins are looking at using the franchise tag on the big left tackle. Jake Long, the Dolphins 2008 first overall draft pick is set to hit the open market in March when the league kicks off it’s “new year”.
The Dolphins are in bit of a bind when it comes to Long. Jake Long has missed the latter part of two seasons now with injuries and his play this year not only left him off the Pro-Bowl roster but left Dolphins fans shaking their heads over his sub-par play. To say nothing of the fact that Jonathan Martin played as well if not better in his place.
The Dolphins do know that Jake Long is one of those rare finds at LT and LT’s are not easy to find. The issue here is the contract signed by Joe Thomas in Cleveland. Drafted one year before Long and labeled as the best LT in the league, Thomas signed a 7 year 84 million dollar deal. Long is expected to sign a similar deal. The Dolphins have the free space under the cap to get a deal done and locking up the left side of the line isn’t a bad thing. However the Dolphins have a lot of other needs on both sides of the ball.
This team lacks playmakers both on offense and defense and while some will point to Reggie Bush on the offensive side of the ball, it should be noted that he too is an impending free agent. The question becomes whether or not Jake Long is worth 50-70 million dollars over the life a contract vs. his ability to stay healthy all season.
With the Dolphins facing a major crisis in the stands on Sunday’s, they need to hit a home run both in free agency and the draft. Jeff Ireland needs to make some bold moves in the free agent market so that he isn’t backed against the wall in the Draft hoping that the final pieces will fall into his lap. Of course when it comes to Long and even Reggie Bush, there is no doubt that the Franchise Tag will be tossed around.
Is it an option? Of course and in reality it’s not a bad idea. Especially where Jake Long is concerned. Franchising Long would give the Dolphins another full season to see if he can get himself wrapped into the West Coast offense being run in Miami as well as proving that he can stay healthy. Keeping Long under the franchise tag will cost the Dolphins somewhere between 9.9 and 10.5 million according to early estimates. It appears that the Oline is not broken down by position in regards to tag values. At least none that I could find.
Conversely, if the Dolphins decided to hand Long a large contract, they could pay some of that up front using the cap space they have this year and allow themselves more freedom in the future with lower cap hits from Long’s deal. In this era of NFL contract management, teams are much more creative with contracts and thus the initial “WOW” number is far less in reality.
If the Dolphins decide to use the tag elsewhere, Reggie Bush would cost the team around 8.1 while Brian Hartline would be close to 10.1. It’s highly unlikely that the Dolphins would opt to use the franchise tag on Hartline but it’s not out of the realm of possibility to use it on Bush although most believe that Bush could be signed to a deal that would be structured for less cap hit.
Regardless of what the Dolphins opt to do one thing is for certain, Jeff Ireland has already started assigning value numbers to his impending free agents and it’s likely he won’t stray far from those figures. After this Sunday’s game in New England, the Dolphins will conduct their year end player reviews and then begin the task of getting players under contract in preparation of the March free agency period.
Should be rather interesting to see how this unfolds.
UPDATE: According to the Palm Beach Post, the Dolphins are not looking at using the franchise tag on Jake Long and “almost certainly” will use it on Sean Smith if a long term deal is not completed before free agency.
UPDATE: Thanks to one of our readers that pointed out the original article sourced on this was from a few months ago and recently referenced by NFL.com. This article has been edited for that change.