2013 NFL Free Agency: How Do Miami Dolphins Respond After Jake Long Signing?

Garrett BakerSenior Analyst IMarch 18, 2013

HOUSTON,TX - SEPTEMBER 09: Connor Barwin #98 of the Houston Texans takes on Jake Long #77 of the Miami Dolphins during the season opener at Reliant Stadium on September 9, 2012 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Bob Levey/Getty Images

On Sunday night, Jake Long decided to sign with the St. Louis Rams on a reported four-year, $34 million contract. I had made the case a few days ago that the Dolphins' biggest remaining free-agent need was at offensive tackle, and this definitely pushes things a bit.

I like the decision by Jeff Ireland to let Long walk at that price. Long's injuries over the past couple years took a toll on his body, and he thrives as more of a drive blocker, which is not the style that Joe Philbin has brought to Miami. 

The Dolphins have to respond not only with adding Long's replacement, but by changing the whole landscape of the team's leadership. Long was the visible leader of the team. He was a big presence on the field, in the locker room and with the media. 

Long and Karlos Dansby, who was released last week, were team captains, and their departures mean that there will be a changing of the guard in Miami. Anthony Fasano and Kevin Burnett, two other veteran leaders, will be playing somewhere else next season as well. 

Ryan Tannehill and Mike Pouncey should both assume bigger leadership roles next season. Cam Wake and Reshad Jones also need to step up on the defensive side of the ball.

Philip Wheeler made a huge impact in one season with Oakland, and I expect him to gain that same respect and authority in Miami. It will also be interesting to see how Lamar Miller fills Reggie Bush's shoes.

As far as replacing Long on the field, there are still good options out there, but Miami will need to move quickly to seize the moment. Three right tackles are available, which would require Jonathan Martin to move permanently to left tackle, where he played after Long got hurt last year. 

Eric Winston seems to be a very good option for Miami, as he would be reasonably priced and is not attached to any one team in particular. He was cut by the Chiefs last week, and there has not been much noise from his camp thus far.

Sebastian Vollmer and Andre Smith are very talented, but both seem likely to return to their respective teams and would carry bigger price tags than Winston. Miami could still take a run at them, but they have to be considered long shots right now.

One new intriguing possibility is Kansas City left tackle Branden Albert, who was slapped with the franchise tag prior to free agency. Albert signed his tender on Monday, meaning that he is officially able to be traded.

ESPN's John Clayton linked Miami to Albert after he signed his tender, and the move would really make a lot of sense. The Dolphins have two second-round picks and would be wise to give one up in exchange for one of the better left tackles in the game.

Albert would ideally get re-signed to a long-term deal, which would lower his cap hit and allow the Dolphins to continue pursuing Brent Grimes and other options. Signing Albert would also allow Martin to stay on the right side of the line, which would be preferred. 

Drafting a tackle in the first round would be an option, but it should not be their primary option. Lane Johnson may still be there at the 12 spot, but he is not a proven commodity, and it would be nerve-wracking to have a rookie and a second-year tackle protecting a second-year quarterback.

Signing Winston, Vollmer or Smith would be great, although Winston would be the best option of the three. But if Albert could actually be had for a second-round pick, that must be Miami's No. 1 priority.