The Miami Dolphins are trying to build a winner. They can't afford to let good players walk away.
Or can they?
In the case of left tackle Jake Long, that may not be true.
The two sides have been in a standoff over his value for months, and it would cost roughly $15.36 million (according to ESPN) to put the franchise tag on him.
That would put a huge dampener on their ability to make other moves this offseason. The Dolphins have invested heavily in their offensive line, to the point where they should be able to afford moving on from the declining Long and his rap sheet of injuries.
Make no mistake—there are plenty of benefits to franchise tagging him.
If the Dolphins don't want to lose Long without getting some sort of compensation, the tag gives them an opportunity to find a trade partner. Surely, if Long could get a top contract from a team, he could also garner solid compensation via trade. It would be shocking to see them net less than a first-round pick for him.
If they are working on a long-term deal but need to buy more time, the tag could serve as a bridge. Reports during the season indicated that the Dolphins were "pessimistic" (via the Miami Herald) about their chances of re-signing Long, but other reports outlined the hard work being done to hammer out a deal (via the South Florida Sun-Sentinel).
If they are unsure about signing him to a long-term deal, the franchise tag gives them a one-year alternative to find out for 100-percent certain if he's worth the investment. And let's be clear: They have plenty of reason to be unsure.
At 28 years old, Long should be hitting the prime of his career. Instead, he has battled injuries for the past few years, with surgeries on his biceps, triceps, shoulder and both knees, and he battled inconsistency in the Dolphins' new zone-blocking scheme in 2012.
Long's looking for upwards of $10 million per year, which is in line with the best offensive tackles in the game right now. One look at the numbers, however, shows he's been far from one of the best in the game for two years running.
Blame it on injuries if you like, but those injuries will factor into the equation in negotiating a long-term deal, one way or the other.
They have $35.8 million in cap space (according to ESPN), which would help them absorb the hit in the event that they could work out neither a trade nor a reasonable long-term deal. It would still have a horrible ripple effect on their ability to bring in other talented players at positions of greater need (hello, wide receiver).
Right tackle Jonathan Martin proved capable of making the transition to the left side of the offensive line when Long went down. If the Dolphins let Long walk, chances are good that Martin will be the left tackle. Filling the right tackle spot is much easier than filling the left tackle spot.
If Long walks, the Dolphins have options on how they can replace him. They could turn to free agency, where a talented list of names will be available, including Sebastian Vollmer, Andre Smith, Phil Loadholt, Jermon Bushrod and others. They could turn to the draft, where they have classically put high value on offensive linemen.
They could also look to build from within. Nate Garner started the final five games at right tackle and played very well aside from the abomination against the Patriots. He gave up 11 hurries and two sacks in 177 snaps of pass protection (via ProFootballFocus.com).
Losing any talented player is tough, especially for a team trying to get over the hump. For the Dolphins, though, it may be the best option, and certainly wouldn't be the end of the world.
Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless otherwise specified, all quotes are obtained firsthand or via team press releases.
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