As we approach the roller coaster that is NFL free agency, it is still unclear what moves the Miami Dolphins will be making. They have numerous key players that are set to be free agents and it is unlikely they will re-sign all of them.
With a list that includes Randy Starks, Chris Clemmons, Sean Smith, Anthony Fasano, Brian Hartline, Reggie Bush and Jake Long, the Dolphins will probably look to sign the players with the brightest future with the team.
Unfortunately, or fortunately (depending on how you look at it), Jake Long looks to have one foot out of the door in South Beach. After making $11.2 million last year, Long is asking the Dolphins for $10 million per year in what might possibly be his last major contract.
With all the needs Miami has at other positions, it is highly unlikely and incredibly foolish to pay that much money for a player whose performance has declined.
Let's take a look at some of the pros and cons of letting Long walk in free agency.
As I said earlier, Miami has some big needs that they need to fill through either free agency or the draft. With Miami expected to have around $46 million in cap space, they should not give Jake Long the amount of money he is looking for.
Had he stayed healthy the past two years and remained the top left tackle in football, then Miami would think about making him the highest paid left tackle. However, Long has suffered season-ending injuries the last two seasons and his level of play has clearly declined.
By not re-signing Long, Miami can save a lot of money and focus their spending at positions like wide receiver and cornerback. Other options for Miami include looking for a cheaper left tackle through free agency, moving Jonathan Martin to his natural position at left tackle and spending money on a right tackle, drafting a left tackle, or once again moving Martin to the left and drafting a right tackle.
All these options would prevent the Dolphins for overpaying for a clearly declining player at a key position, especially with a young quarterback. Long will surely be missed in Miami, but overpaying for him is not the answer.
It is a shame that the player the Dolphins picked No. 1 overall in the 2008 Draft might only spend five years with the team. These are still after-effects of the "Big Tuna" era in Miami.
We saw what Jonathan Martin did as a left tackle in college when he was in charge of protecting Andrew Luck's blind side. However, we've only caught a glimpse of how well he can perform on the left side at the pro level.
Martin started out and played most of the season as the team's right tackle, but when Long went down with a season-ending injury, Martin quickly shifted to the left to take his place. As a right tackle, he was pretty good, but nothing to brag about. It may be a possibility that Martin may play better at left tackle, but it can also be a possibility that he doesn't play up to his potential.
Even when Jake Long is not 100 percent, he is still a serviceable left tackle. We know Jake Long can protect the quarterback, something we are not exactly sure Martin can do throughout an entire season.
Martin projects to be the future for the Dolphins, whether it is next season or three seasons from now. With a weak class of left tackles coming out of college this year, Miami's best chance of protecting Ryan Tannehill's blindside, if they in fact let Long walk, is moving Martin to the left side of the line.
To build on my last slide, Miami can determine if Jonathan Martin is suitable to play the left tackle position if they give him a good amount of reps. There's no better way to do that than by plugging him in at the position throughout the entire season.
If Miami were to re-sign Long, Martin would most likely be moved back to the right side of the line. Instead, with Long out of town, Martin will not have any competition at left tackle, allowing him to showcase all his skills.
If Martin does prove he can play on the left side, it will give Miami a solid core of young players in Martin and Mike Pouncey for years to come. Miami is doing a good job in rebuilding this team and he can be one of the building blocks that carries this team back to an elite status.
Even though he has only been in the league for five years, Jake Long has been a leader since day one. He is a leader on the practice field, in the film room, in the locker room and on the field. It will be hard for the Dolphins to replace the intangibles that he brings to the team.
The Dolphins only have a few veterans that bring the same leadership Long does. However, these are all defensive players. Mike Pouncey has emerged as one of the leaders on the offense, but is still not the leader Long was for Miami.
Leadership is a trait that may be learned, but true leaders are born. Long was a true leader that made everyone around him better. The only problem is, you can't pay $10 million per year just for leadership.