Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Pro Bowler Jake Long lands on IR with torn triceps

A mainstay at left tackle for the Miami Dolphins ever since he was taken first overall in the 2008 NFL Draft, Jake Long landed on injured reserve for the first time in his career Wednesday after suffering a torn triceps muscle in the team's loss to the New England Patriots in Week 16.

Long, who started the first 61 games of his career at left tackle for the Dolphins, missed his first game ever in Week 15 against the Buffalo Bills with a back injury suffered the week before. He was back in the starting lineup last week before suffering the triceps injury early against the Patriots.

The news of Long's move to injured reserve comes just a day after he was selected to his fourth Pro Bowl in as many seasons. He will not participate in the all-star event in Honolulu and likely would not have done so even if he hadn't suffered this most recent injury.

Long suffered a torn labrum midway through the 2010 season and managed to play through it. He has also been bothered by injuries to both knees over the past year. Despite all that, Long has performed at a level better than most other tackles in the NFL.

Arguably the best blind side blocker when healthy, Long still ranked as the 20th-best tackle in the NFL in 2011 according to Pro Football Focus, having been responsible for five sacks and 18 quarterback pressures during the season.

Long will enter the final season of his rookie contract in 2012 after the final year of the deal voided due to playing time incentives. Additionally, his base salary has also jumped from its original $6.75 million to $11.2 million because of Long's accomplishments.

Second-year man John Jerry, who has primarily worked at guard during his Dolphins career, will likely start in Long's place against the Jets in Week 17. Running back Richard Medlin was promoted from the practice squad to fill Long's roster spot.


Analysis

It's a sad ending to Long's season, and I personally think the Dolphins should have kept him out after the back injury suffered in Week 13. The season was already lost and there was no reason to keep Long out there, but I'm sure he's a competitor and would always want to be out there when healthy.

Hopefully, Long can rehab all of his injuries during the offseason and finally be back to 100% in 2012, which he hasn't been for a long time. At his best, Long is the best left tackle in the game and is on his way to the Hall of Fame if he can string together 12-15 years of this kind of play and consistent Pro Bowl selections.

What I think is really interesting to think about here is what will happen with Long's contract as he enters its final year. I for one think it's absurd for anyone to suggest the team could trade Long, as it makes no sense to part ways with a franchise left tackle, especially when the rest of your line isn't set anyway. Ditching Long now would be a monumental mistake.

That being said, the Dolphins will certainly have to wonder if its best to hold off on handing Long a new big contract, similar to the seven-year, $84 million deal Joe Thomas signed with the Browns before the season. Long's recent injury history is certainly concerning and the Dolphins understandably don't want to put themselves in a financial bind.

Because of the risk you have to associate with Long right now, I'm wondering if the team declines to extend him before the 2012 season ends. It makes sense to see if he can get healthy and perform next season before re-upping with him, and even if you can't reach a long-term extension with him quickly, there's always the franchise tag in 2013.

Hopefully Long will get back to full health next season and continue to play at a high level, because he's a fantastic player and it would be a shame to see his Dolphins' career end well before it rightly should.

As for Medlin, don't expect him to be participating much or at all in the season finale this weekend. Like Pat Devlin last week, this move was merely made to secure a practice squad player for the 2012 offseason a little early.

An undrafted rookie from Fayetteville State, Medline spent the preseason with the New England Patriots before being waived during final cuts. He had been on the Dolphins' practice squad since September.

As always, check out the updated projected depth chart reflecting these transactions here.


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