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The Miami Dolphins tackle direction

PHOENIX -- Remember the names Sebastian Vollmer, Eric Winston, or any of a number of draft picks on the board that might be able to play left tackle, including Oklahoma's Lane Johnson.

All are options the Dolphins have confirmed to me, through sources, they will study in an effort to fill the void left by Jake Long's signing with St. Louis.

But for the moment, and perhaps much longer, Miami's new left tackle is Jonathan Martin. The man who played the spot last season when Long went on his now habitual December injured reserve sabbatical  is today the Dolphins new left tackle.

"Right now he is," Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland said today at the NFL annual meeting.

Are the Dolphins upset Jake Long is gone?

Yes. And no.

The team will miss his grittiness. The players may miss his leadership. 

"I've got nothing but LOVE for Jake! The Rams just got themselves one hell of a leader! Not to mention the toughest dude I know," guard Richie Incognito tweeted today.

But Miami's coaching staff and personnnel departments were ready for this possibility. They set a price for Long -- that was not as high as what the St.  Louis Rams gave him, but in the ballpark. And although the club could have increased its offer to Long, they really didn't to any significant degree.

In the end, as I wrote here, Long picked the team that offered him the most money and with whom he felt most comfortable. A source close to Long told me this morning the Rams simply made Long feel more wanted. (Obviously the money was part of that but there were other issues at play including lifestyle issues.)

So where do the Dolphins go from here?

The club is closing in on finalizing a deal for Nate Garner, according to The Herald's Adam Beasley, but that is not the answer. Garner is viewed by the team as a solid and valuable backup tackle who can start in a pinch. But, again, he is not the long-term answer.

A club source told me this morning the team plans a corresponding move to upgrade the offensive line. That move isn't necessarily the signing of a left tackle. Indeed, the best offensive lineman on the market now is New England's Sebastian Vollmer, who is a right tackle.

It is possible the Dolphins go after Vollmer to upgrade at right tackle and move forward with Martin at left tackle. It must be noted that Vollmer comes with red flags. He missed all of training camp last year with back issues. He played throughout the season, even practicing during the week, but the back was constantly an issue for him.

He also suffered back issues in 2011.

So the Patriots have not bent over backwards (pardon the pun) to re-sign Vollmer.

Eric Winston is a short-term possibility. He's been cut two consecutive offseasons and that speaks to his relative value or over-value in some sense. If the Dolphins show interest in Winston, and they have not yet, it will likely be as a stop-gap situation -- perhaps a one- or two-year deal. Winston is also a right tackle.

If the Dolphins wanted to make a commitment at left tackle, I suppose they could chase Andre Smith. Hard to believe they'd do that. Smith has struggled with weight issues in the past. He solved those last year but, of course, that was his contract year.

He is a mauler. He was good last year, but not great. He wants big money.

I'm thinking Smith is not a Dolphins kind of guy. He's not a great system fit. He's doesn't sound like a Joe Philbin guy. He's expensive. And there are lots better (also cheaper) options in the draft.

Bryant McKinnie?

Don't see it. He's going to be 34. He was a backup for Baltimore all of last year until the playoffs because he was out of shape. He finally got in shape in time for the playoffs and played very, very well. McKinnie also has obvious South Florida ties as a former University of Miami player.

But, again, he's not a system fit. He's not a Philbin kind of guy. He's a guy that you have to worry about being out late at night at the local clubs. He's going to be 34. Did I mention that?

Maybe he's an short-term injury option. Maybe he's a desperation pickup after the draft. I don't see him as the answer now.

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