The Miami Dolphins have around $46 million in salary cap space this offseason, poised to strike hard and rapidly improve the team. One of the reasons they have so much room under the cap is the number of players with expiring contracts at the end of this league year in March. One of the biggest names in that group is former number one overall pick, left tackle Jake Long, who the team has repeatedly said they would like to see return next year, but may be destined to don a new jersey for the first time in his NFL career.
The Dolphins look at Long and see a former four time Pro Bowler, who is not playing up to that level anymore, and has ended the last two seasons on injured reserve due to arm injuries that required surgery. The team also sees Long's history of injuries with his knees, back, and shoulder. All of that means the team does not want to pay him in the elite tackle levels.
However, Long's camp still sees him as a player who missed the Pro Bowl for the first time in his career this year, and can point to his injured reserve stint as to why he was not selected. Prior to his season ending injury, Long was leading the league in fan voting for the position. Long has been compared to Cleveland Browns tackle Joe Thomas throughout his career, with the debate over which one of the two was the best tackle in the game. Thomas signed a contract extension with the Browns in August 2011, giving him $84-million over seven years, with $44 million guaranteed.
It appears that the Dolphins and Long may be far apart in what they are considering "fair value" for the tackle to return to Miami next year. According to the Miami Herald's Barry Jackson, the Dolphins are starting to get pessimistic about working out a deal with Long. The Dolphins offered Long a contract extension during the season, according to various reports, but Long rejected the offer, which he reportedly felt was a "lowball" offer. According to Jackson's sources, Long is looking for a deal in the $10 million per year.
Of course, that could be a high end request from Long's camp, countering the low offer from the Dolphins, before the two teams finally come to an agreement somewhere in between. The Dolphins could also offer Long the $10 million in incentives rather than a base salary.
Miami could also allow Long to hit the market, setting his price range before offering him a comparable deal. The team did something similar with defensive tackle Paul Soliai last year. Soliai was scheduled to meet with the Denver Broncos before Miami came back with an offer that both sides found acceptable. Soliai had been the Dolphins' franchise player in 2011, paying him $12.5 million that year. He signed a two year deal last March for $6 million per year.
The Dolphins could be willing to let Long go completely, if his asking price does not come down. The team drafted Jonathan Martin in the second round of last year's draft. The rookie started the season as the team's right tackle before the injury to Long forced Martin back to his Stanford position of left tackle. If the Dolphins feel Martin could be an effective left tackle with an entire offseason to prepare, or they feel like they could find a replacement in free agency or the draft, the team could let Long walk away. Martin's average salary over the four years of his rookie contract, which runs through 2015, is $1.9 million. Long made $11.2 million in 2012.