- James Walker, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Miami Dolphins entered this offseason with more than $40 million of cap space. They certainly were not afraid to spend it last week on big-name free agents such as receiver Mike Wallace and linebacker Dannell Ellerbe.
But the Dolphins took an entirely different approach when it came to left tackle Jake Long. Miami held tight to its purse strings and only offered Long a team-friendly contract it was comfortable with. The Dolphins fearlessly let Long test the open market. If Long could get a better offer elsewhere, the Dolphins were fine with that.
In the end, Long landed a better offer. He reportedly agreed to a four-year contract worth a maximum of $36 million with the St. Louis Rams. The $9 million per year average was simply too rich for the Dolphins. I seriously doubt anyone in Miami’s front office will lose sleep for refusing to overpay for Long's services.
The Dolphins drafted Long No. 1 overall in 2008 and know the left tackle better than any other team. It was clear during negotiations Miami believed Long was no longer elite. Long has been injury riddled and on the decline for the past two years. The Dolphins wisely were not going to pay Long for the player he once was, but only for the player he currently is.
Long had no choice but to leave Miami in order to get the type of money he wanted. The Dolphins simply knew too much. They had Long in his prime years and felt he was getting further and further away from that player. Although the NFL is unpredictable, there is a greater chance of Long taking the Tony Boselli route in the second half of his career than suddenly reverting back to the best left tackle in football, which he arguably was from 2008-10.
But a team like St. Louis, which desperately needs someone to protect quarterback Sam Bradford, is willing to take a risk on Long at $9 million per year. Still, St. Louis met with Long last week for three days, which included a physical. It was clear the Rams also had some reservations.
Miami now has a hole to fill at left tackle, but there are other options. The Dolphins could move 2012 second-round pick Jonathan Martin from right tackle to left tackle or find a viable replacement in the draft or free agency. Offensive tackles available with starting experience include Eric Winston and Sebastian Vollmer, who are more affordable options.
The Jake Long era ends in Miami with mixed reviews. He was a popular and elite left tackle during his first three years. However, Long's last two seasons in Miami were less than stellar, and the Dolphins probably cut ties with him at the right time.