Before this article gets messy with logic and reasoning meant to suggest the Dolphins do away with their franchise left tackle, let's make something clear: I like Jake Long. I like him very much. I was fine with Miami opting for Long over Matt Ryan, and I truly believe he was, for a time, the best blindside tackle in the NFL. He no longer holds that status (for reasons discussed below), but that's hardly the reason why the Dolphins should move on without Long on their roster.
Rather, forget about Long's four Pro Bowl nods in his first four years as a pro. Forget about his standing as arguably the best left tackle in the NFL. Forget about the dominance he has demonstrated against some of the league's most fearsome pass-rushers. Forget all of that, and instead take into account three simple facts:
1) Long is among the last of a dying breed of hugely-paid No. 1 overall picks. The Dolphins in April 2008 gave Long unprecedented money for a left tackle, and he'll want his next contract to build upon his original $57.75 million deal.
2) Long has been severely banged up nearly every season he has played for the Miami Dolphins, and just landed on IR for the second consecutive year.
3) On a Dolphins team that needs to spend a considerable amount of money on the wide receiver group this spring, Long's contract status is an absolute c***block.
That last detail is perhaps the most damning in regard to Long's future in Miami. And the fact that the Dolphins last Sunday were able to roll out a finesse left tackle like Jonathan Martin against the 49ers without doing any major damage to quarterback Ryan Tannehill (minus a sack that was the result of an Aldon Smith bull rush that nearly disemboweled Martin) should more than confirm that Jake Long's play and presence in Miami just doesn't come close to warranting the kind money he'll want after this season (for those of you playing at home, Long will likely want Joe Thomas-type money--$84 million over seven years, with $44 million guaranteed).
Again, Martin is a finesse protector who couldn't carry Long's jock at this point. However, Martin is also a perfect fit for the zone-blocking scheme that head coach Joe Philbin brought to town last winter. He also costs less than Long's shoes, and could end up being a very important piece on a Dolphins offensive line that preaches intelligence, athleticism and communication over raw strength and size. If you're Jeff Ireland, do you move forward with the rookie tackle who absolutely fits your new blocking scheme, or do you stick with the oft-injured, mega-expensive tackle who can certainly moonlight as a zone-type blocker, but is really tailor-made for a man scheme?
Hopefully you did the math in the previous two paragraphs and crafted a conclusion along the lines of "Miami would be absolutely insane to pay Jake Long what he wants, especially when the Dolphins need upgrades at several key positions." If so, you might already be considering the question that is often attached with Jake Long's contract issue: should we trade him or let him walk, and what can we get in exchange for him?
Well, the good news is that the Dolphins could indeed pull off a trade to get Long out of town. The bad news is that they won't get nearly the amount they would've received for Long one or two years ago. I used to think Long was worth upward of two No. 1 picks; now I'd be thrilled to get a No. 1 and some change for him. Thus, the Long situation isn't about Miami selling high on him, but rather cutting its losses and getting something for a player who is a perennial Pro Bowler and top five talent at left tackle. Doesn't seem right, does it?
Of course, the Dolphins already have five picks within the first three rounds of the 2013 NFL Draft. What if a deal for Long nabbed them an extra first- and third-round pick this spring? Seven picks within the first two days of the draft could be a franchise changer for Miami. In a sense, the Dolphins in that scenario would be trading away a high-priced tackle for a chance to draft the positions they've completely overlooked (or straight-up botched, depending on your vantage point) since Long came to Miami nearly five years ago. And yes, the Dolphins would probably use one of those seven picks on a right tackle. But does that really matter when you have seven f'n draft picks through the first three rounds?
Regardless, many signs point to Martin, not Long, serving as starting left tackle for the Joe Philbin-led Miami Dolphins. If you have a problem with Martin's overall play this season, keep in mind that it's very difficult for finesse tackles to make a living on the right side of the offensive line. If you have a problem with the way Smith toppled Martin on that play last Sunday, remember that Martin's prospect analysis sheet identified the bull rush as the only move that really gave him problems. If you have a problem with Martin's apparent lack of core strength, keep in mind that he'll probably look to correct that problem in the weight room during the offseason.
In the end, Martin's upside, scheme fit and rookie contract far outweigh what the high-priced Long can do for the Dolphins as they move forward. Gone are the days of a trench-first mentality in Miami. This team is now about getting intelligent, athletic and efficient play from the offensive line at the lowest dollar amount possible.
Let the belt tightening begin.