And, like most good representatives do, Long’s agent probably will talk to the Dolphins sometime soon and try to get Long a new contract that will continue to pay him as his continued Pro Bowl reputation would demand:
Like one of the NFL’s best, if not the best.
The Dolphins would be ridiculously dumb to agree to that.
The Dolphins must be wary that the current trend of Long slipping is an ominous sign. Yes, he’s only 27 years old, but there are many examples of dominant players slipping prematurely as injuries and years mount. Those players often become salary-cap burdens during their supposed prime.
That’s what Long might become if the Dolphins match the contract current elite left tackle Joe Thomas signed with Cleveland last season. That deal pays Thomas $92 million with $44 million guaranteed over eight years. Long would never see the final years of that kind of deal unless his current trajectory takes a dramatic bull market upswing.
The other problem with using the Thomas deal as the blueprint for a Long deal in Miami is that Long isn’t playing at the same level as Thomas. So why would the Dolphins pay him as if he was?
The answer is obviously one of two possibilities:
Long and his agent accept a more modest deal that doesn’t pay $11.5 million like Thomas got but pays more along the lines of the $8 million-a-year deal Brown got from the Texans in August or the $9.2 million-a-year Ferguson got from the Jets in 2010.
That would mean a pay cut for Long. And there is no inkling how he feels about such a possibility because he declined to be interviewed for this column.
But if Long isn’t agreeable to a deal that pays him relative to his current performance level, the Dolphins have another recourse in using the franchise tag.
If the Dolphins put the franchise tag on Long, it would cost them $15.36 million next year — which is 120 percent of what Long is making this season.
That is very, very expensive.
But it locks up Long for one year. It doesn’t let Long go shopping himself in free agency. It doesn’t create another hole for Miami at a time general manager Jeff Ireland is trying to plug plenty of roster needs. The franchise tag also buys the Dolphins time.
Placing the franchise tag on Long gives the Dolphins a chance to see if he can regain his old form. If Long recovers next season, then the team could feel a greater comfort in locking him up for a longer term.
But if Long continues to play like an ordinary left tackle, the Dolphins could revisit the idea of signing a modest contract.
Or they could even look at other options — no matter how many times Long gets elected to the Pro Bowl.