What Are the Experts Saying About Jake Long to the St. Louis Rams?

Zach KruseSenior Analyst IMarch 18, 2013

MIAMI - OCTOBER 12:  Offensive lineman Jake Long #77 of the Miami Dolphins celebrates after a touchdown by Ronnie Brown #23 against the New York Jets at Land Shark Stadium on October 12, 2009 in Miami, Florida. The Dolphins defeated the Jets 31-27.  (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)
Doug Benc/Getty Images

The St. Louis Rams rolled the dice and outbid the Miami Dolphins for free-agent offensive tackle Jake Long, who agreed to a four-year deal Sunday night. 

Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk had the original scoop. 

Long, a former No. 1 overall pick in 2008, was selected as an AFC Pro Bowl starter in each of his first four seasons. Once considered one of the elite left tackles in football, a series of injuries over the last two seasons all but sapped Long of that status and the money that goes along with it. 

The 6'7" tackle has missed six games over the last two seasons, including four in 2012 because of a triceps injury. Ankle and back injuries have also plagued Long since 2011. 

However, Long's monetary loss could be the Rams' gain. 

According to Adam Schefter of ESPN, the Rams signed Long to a four-year deal worth up to $36 million, which likely means a number of contract incentives were put in place. Even if Long maximizes the contract's worth, a $9 million yearly average will only rank his deal at No. 8 among NFL offensive tackles.

If Long stays healthy and returns to his pre-injury form, the deal will rank as one of this year's true free-agent bargains. Pete Schrager of FOX Sports says as much here, comparing Long's deal to Will Beatty, who received a five-year deal worth $37.5 million from the New York Giants:

Long's signing has even more importance to the Rams, especially when you consider the arms race currently underway in the NFC West.

The Seattle Seahawks have added both Cliff Avril (9.5 sacks in 2012, 39.5 in four seasons) and Michael Bennett (9.0 sacks in 2012) in free agency, while the San Francisco 49ers still possess All-Pros Justin Smith and Aldon Smith. Both defenses should possess top pressure packages next season.

Adding a top pass protector like Long for Sam Bradford quickly became even more of a necessity for the Rams this offseason. 

Pete Prisco echoed those thoughts here. 

Long will be expected to keep the likes of the Smith brothers, Avril, Bennett, Chris Clemons and Bruce Irvin off Bradford in 2013 and beyond. 

However, Long's lengthy injury history and recent production drop off are two issues worth discussing to Mike Sando of ESPN.

A 16-game starter in each of his first three seasons, Long has dealt with a number of ailments since 2011. Injuries to both his back and right biceps cost him two games two seasons ago, and 2012 saw the Dolphins place Long on the injured reserve because of a problem with his triceps. 

With the injuries have come a decline in efficiency for Long at left tackle.

According to Pro Football Focus, Long averaged just 21 quarterback disruptions allowed over his first three seasons. He graded out in the top 10 of offensive tackles in each season, including top-two finishes in both 2009 and 2010. 

However, the decline has been severe in the last two years.

In 2011, Long allowed a career highs in both sacks (five) and total disruptions (26). He graded out as PFF's No. 21 tackle. 

Last season Long dropped off further, allowing 21 disruptions and committing 11 penalties in just 12 games. He finished as the No. 46 tackle, his worst final grade in any of his five NFL seasons. 

Thanks to that decline, plus the obvious move for St. Louis to shift Rodger Saffold over to right tacke, Bleacher Report lead writer Ty Schalter gave the signing a C-minus grade. In his opinion, the Rams might actually be downgrading at left tackle by moving Saffold out and Long in. 

However, not all were as harsh of a grader as Schalter. 

Sports Illustrated's Chris Burke, who has also graded every free-agent signing, gave the move a B-plus mark. While mostly optimistic about Long's chances of rebounding in St. Louis, he also warned about the risk of the Rams throwing away money.

Count me in the camp that believes Long still has more left in the tank than he showed in 2011 or ’12. So, from that perspective, this ought to be a massive pickup for the Rams. Should Long stay an injury-prone, declining left tackle, however, the Rams will wind up wasting money.

Signing Long to a $36 million deal was a calculated risk for the Rams, but one that most of the experts felt was the strong move. 

The money in the deal wasn't elite, the incentives will likely be health-based and the Rams have serious pass-rushing threats to deal with in the NFC West.

However, a string of injuries and a resulting drop off in efficiency are legitimate reasons to worry about the financial savvy of such an agreement. 

Overall, it's difficult to argue that the Rams didn't get better by adding Long, a potentially elite left tackle if healthy. In the end, that might be all that matters.