Jake Long is reportedly asking for $11 million a season as he enters the free agency pool in a few weeks. Nobody is going to pay Jake Long $11 million a season. Based on most of the reliable and reputable grading systems across the NFL, Long is on the decline and I'd be surprised if he draws anywhere near double-digits from an offensive line hungry team. Long was a great player for the Miami Dolphins and at times the most dominant left tackle in the sport. But injuries and time have taken their toll on him, leading to a 2012 season where the label of "mediocre" might actually be too generous.
Is Jake Long still a viable left tackle? Yes. Pete Prisco, Peter King and Omar Kelly have each written on the subject of Long's demise being overstated.
Is Long capable of overcoming the injuries which have plagued him the last few seasons and returning to his previous form? Doubtful. Players don't fall from greatness and return to it in the NFL. The league gets too young too fast and the human body can only take so many snaps.
Is Long worth the financial risk for the Chicago Bears? Maybe.
At his worst in 2012, Long graded out by Pro Football Focus as the 21st best pass protector in the NFL. This was devastating news for Long but it essentially means only 20 tackles in football protected their quarterback more effectively. J'Marcus Webb was 53rd. Gabe Carimi was 63rd. Think about that. 63rd? (For you non-math wizards, there are only 32 teams in the NFL and subsequently 64 starting tackles.) If one believes 2012 Long is a precursor of 2013 Long, the Bears would still be improving their edge protection by a significant amount.
The downside of signing Long is the 2012 version. The upside is he regains his health and provides a veteran anchor to the Bears offensive line for a few years the way Fred Miller did in the mid 2000s. But Miller was never Long, never an elite NFL player and never capable of dominating a pass rusher the way Long is.
There are questions arising from the Long option.
- Can the Bears afford him? My belief is now and will continue to be that with Cliff Stein managing your salary cap a team can afford any player they'd like to sign. If the Bears want Long, Long will be a Bear.
- Would the signing preclude Phil Emery from taking an OT with the 20th pick? No. The Bears could sign Long and draft a Lane Johnson or DJ Fluker and enter the summer with the J'Marcus Webb and Gabe Carimi battling for backup spots. (I continue to say the oft-maligned Webb is an incredible asset as a flex tackle with his experience on both edges.)
- Are Long's health risks too risky? Maybe in baseball but not the NFL. Unless the Bears were to guarantee Long some absurd amount of money his contract would essentially be structured as a series of one year deals. (That's most NFL contracts.)
- Would a new home motivate Long? I think the answer is absolutely yes. I spent some of this weekend watching Dolphins tape and - while he hasn't stated it publicly - I believe Long was struggling with injuries for a majority of the season and I agree with Prisco/King/Kelly in their assessment of his performance. I don't think he was bad in 2012 and I think he can be good in 2013.
If I were running the Chicago Bears, I'd bring Long in at the right price but no one knows for sure how Phil Emery intends to approach the free agency period. If he decided to roll the dice on Jake Long, he may reap the benefits for the next three seasons.