With the deadline fast approaching for NFL teams to apply their franchise tags on impending free agents (Monday at 4 p.m. ET), the Miami Dolphins are faced with an interesting decision as the offseason begins to ramp up.
While general manager Jeff Ireland has rarely used the franchise tag since taking over the team in 2008—only once, in 2011 on Paul Soliai—the Dolphins have a handful of players that could potentially receive the designation: cornerback Sean Smith, defensive tackle Randy Starks, wide receiver Brian Hartline and left tackle Jake Long.
When determining whether or not to utilize the franchise tag, teams must first establish how beneficial it is from a financial standpoint as well as how it affects the overall direction of the team.
Ensuring Long is a Dolphin in 2013 seems like the logical conclusion.
Though franchising Long would cost Miami over $15 million next season (120 percent of his 2012 cap number of $12.8), it could serve as a place-holder to extend negotiations on a long-term contract.
It is reported that Long is looking for an annual salary of around $11 million (via NFL.com).
Placing the tag on Long also buys the Dolphins another year to determine whether or not his decline in production over the last couple seasons is just a minor blip in his career or an indication that his best is behind him.
Miami could also maintain control over Long in an effort to search for a potential trade partner. The thought process could be that if the four-time Pro Bowler would garner major attention on the free-agent market, teams could be equally interested in striking a deal with the Dolphins for his services.
Long is currently recovering from surgery on his triceps—an injury that cost him four games last season. He has also endured injuries to his biceps, shoulders and both knees over the years.
The Dolphins drafted Long No. 1 overall back in 2008, joining Ron Yary (1968) and Orlando Pace (1997) as the only offensive tackles to be the top pick. The three have combined to played 32 seasons and have been named to 18 Pro Bowls.
Miami wouldn't be short of options should it let Long walk, as the draft and free-agent market are viable sources for a potential replacement. In-house candidate Jonathan Martin could get the call too.
Long will be just 28 years old when the season starts and is at a pivotal point in his career. The Dolphins may be gambling a bit with the uncertainty of Long's immediate future, but a one-year commitment to gain more certainty could be worth the risk.
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