Who will be protecting Ryan Tannehill's blindside in 2013? Miami Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland wants to keep Jake Long as his team's left tackle but is insisting on the hometown discount, according to Armando Salguero of The Miami Herald.
The popular notion among Miami fans is that Long is on the decline, due to injury, and he can be replaced by 2012 rookie Jonathan Martin, a free agent, or a 2013 rookie.
Pro Football Focus has Long rated as the 22nd-best offensive tackle in free agency. There is no doubt that Long is coming off a down year, and Ireland is using this past season and the popular perception as leverage.
Is Long really this broken? Can he be replaced by Martin, a free agent, or a rookie?
So far this offseason, Long has received some breaks, and his stock is rising.
Michigan's Taylor Lewan was considered the second-best tackle in the 2013 draft class until he, surprisingly, elected to remain a Wolverine for one more year.
Texas A&M's Luke Joeckel and Lewan were considered the elite tackles of the upcoming draft class, and based on team needs, the Dolphins were likely to miss on both.
Now, Central Michigan's Eric Fisher is quickly rising and has taken Lewan's place as the second-best tackle. The 2013 offensive tackle class has been watered down, and realistically, Fisher may not be available for Miami.
The Kansas City Chiefs may draft Joeckel first overall.
Smith, the sixth overall selection of the 2009 NFL draft, had a slow start to his career because of conditioning and work ethic. In the last few years, Smith excelled and was beginning to meet his lofty expectations.
The bad judgement he showed by carrying a pistol into an airport has likely eliminated him from consideration by the Dolphins and some other teams.
The Kansas City Chiefs' are negotiating a new contract with their free-agent left tackle, Branden Albert. Pro Football Weekly reported that the Chiefs are contemplating a move to guard for Albert.
This may be a ploy to drive down Albert's value, but it places his ability in question. While the Chiefs may be looking forward to drafting Luke Joeckel to be their left tackle, why are they so confident that he will beat out the veteran Albert? Why would Albert not shift to right tackle?
There is smoke in Kansas City, and Albert's value is on the decline.
The New England Patriots right tackle, Sebastian Vollmer, is also a free agent. Unlike Jake Long, Vollmer had a solid 2012 campaign.
Vollmer can make the transition to left tackle or complement Jonathan Martin from the right side of the line. The issue with Vollmer is an injury history that makes Long look like Iron Man.
Vollmer did not play his sophomore season at the University of Houston because of "major back surgery." He missed most of 2011 with back problems and a sprained ankle. Before the 2012 season, he had minor back surgery.
Ryan Clady is the best tackle on the market. He is from California, played at Boise State and has been with the Denver Broncos since 2008. How would Miami lure him?
Denver has the cap space to offer him a hefty contract to protect Peyton Manning. In the unlikely scenario that Clady wanted to leave Denver, the Broncos can franchise him for the bargain rate of $9.66 million.
Clady will be a Bronco in 2013.
The free agent landscape for offensive tackles looked good from afar but, up close, is full of warts. It is also unlikely that the Dolphins will find a rookie to replace Long as Luke Joeckel and Eric Fisher will likely be gone before Miami makes their first pick in the 2013 draft.
Say what you want about Long but he is the Miami Dolphins' best choice in free agency. Jeff Ireland is trying to drive Long's price down but Long has all the leverage.
Expect Jake Long to stay with the Miami Dolphins in 2013 even if it's with a $15 million franchise tag (via Pat Kirwan, h/t Adam H. Beasley of The Miami Herald). After that, it's all up to him.