The Dolphins’ three-game losing streak took them from wild-card contender to a “they are who we thought they were” situation at 4-6, with a brutal schedule to finish the season. The change in the past month also affects the way the organization looks forward to the offseason, as it prepares for 2013 with several key free agents-to-be.
No. 1 on the Dolphins’ decision-making list is OLT Jake Long. The former No. 1 pick seems to be a prime candidate for the franchise tag, and the Miami Herald reported in June that would be the Dolphins’ plan, but we hear it’s not so simple.
One daily team observer would be surprised if the team gave Long the tag, considering how expensive that would be — approximately $15 million for the 2013 season. Among the other impending free-agent starters the Dolphins have to keep in mind include CB Sean Smith, RB Reggie Bush, DT Randy Starks, WR Brian Hartline, TE Anthony Fasano and SS Chris Clemons.
Numbers-wise, Long is hardly having a season worthy of that kind of money. Stats LLC has credited him with allowing six sacks this season, already a career-high, but he's also not allowing many hurries for someone matched up one-on-one with the opponent's top pass rusher.
Long hasn’t looked his best this season, but that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t generate plenty of interest on the free-agent market, considering the premium on his position and the teams in need of upgrades on the O-line. Ultimately, Miami will first and foremost try to sign Long to a long-term deal, and he is still the most talented player of the Dolphins’ free agents. How this season concludes for the team, Long and the other starters with expiring contracts will dictate plenty, but Long likely will be the first domino to fall, whether it’s getting a new deal, receiving the franchise tag or hitting the market.
Follow Kevin Fishbain on Twitter