Jake Long is in the final year of a contract that seemed oh-so-expensive in 2008 when he signed as the first overall draft pick but has been well worth the money to date. Long is scheduled to make $11.2 million in his contract year and cost upwards of $12.8 million against the cap.
The base salary is basically the cost of doing business. The cap charge seems like a case of business that could be done better.
The fact is the Dolphins need to extend Long's deal. He has been a good player. He is a foundation stone for the franchise. And an extension could easily lower that cap charge and give the team more space to maneuver as it wishes in the coming days of the 2012 league year.
Yet, off Long went on his honeymoon recently and the Dolphins didn't have a new contract ready for him as a wedding gift.
Ah, the why is a puzzle.
The club's official stance is that Long without doubt is not going anywhere, that he is outstanding and that he absolutely will not be allowed to hit free agency at the end of 2012 so that he can possibly go elsewhere.
Good call, Dolphins folks!
So why the delay when an extension could be beneficial for both sides? Well the possibilities are the puzzle.
Maybe both sides have a wink-wink agreement that something will get done and it will. Great, but time is money and the longer this is on the back burner, the weaker the Dolphins seem from a cap standpoint.
Maybe both sides have talked and they simply haven't come to an agreement. This is probably the most likely scenario. The truth is gauging Long's value won't be easy. Cleveland re-signed Joe Thomas to an 8-year contract worth a reported $92 million that included a whopping $44 million in guaranteed money. That's an $11.5 million annual average. And the trouble for the Dolphins is Long will expect to exceed this deal by a significant amount.
Worth it? Obviously yes at first blush. But look deeper. Long is worth is if he's healthy. Long is worth it if the club last season judged his play to be as good as ever -- unlikely considering his rash of injuries. Long, in short, is worth it if the Dolphins believe him to be Jonathan Ogden or Walter Jones -- both of whom played for years at exceedingly high levels and without injuries.
But what if Long is Tony Boselli? Boselli was perhaps the best left tackle in the game early in his career with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Big, strong, mobile, he was Long before Long. But then he injured a knee. Then he injured an ankle. Then he hurt his shoulder. And then he hurt the shoulder again. And again.
And by his seventh NFL season, Boselli was broken. Folks were surprised when Boselli was placed on the expansion list and allowed to go to Houston. But when he arrived in Houston, injured and unable to contribute, everyone understood.
So is Long on the road to being Boselli? In the past two years he's had a building litany of injuries -- first a knee, then an ankle and shoulder and last year a back and a torn right biceps that forced him to finish the season on injured reserve.
Are the Dolphins worried the trend might continue? Even privately there is confidence Long will recover and continue to be a pillar of the offensive line. But I would imagine the club would nonetheless like to protect itself financially against the continuation of the recent trend.
Perhaps the club prefers to see how Long returns and is handling training camp and the early part of the season before committing to a new contract.
That would be smart. Of course, in the meantime, that significant cap hit glows in neon as needing to be addressed. It is a catch-22. Pay Long and gamble he'll be fine? Or delay a new contract and suffer the tightened cap space?
There is, of course, another scenario that might explain the lack of a new contract for Long. It is obvious this is a big-ticket item. It will cost a lot of dollars. What if owner Stephen Ross, smarting from tanking ticket sales, simply isn't in position to dole out $40-$50 million in guaranteed money right now, much of which would no doubt come in the form of a hefty signing bonus?
What if the Dolphins -- among the bottom five spenders in cash outlay a year ago -- are simply trying to hold down costs again?
These are all questions the Dolphins don't have to answer. But it would clear things up if they did.