There goes Jake Long.
The free-agency departure of the Dolphins’ five-year starter at left tackle falls into the be-careful-what-you-wish-for pile in the team’s restructuring.
It’s a big pile.
Will the additions be better than the subtractions were?
That’s the pertinent question regarding any roster makeover, especially when a team has been as busy as the Dolphins have been in cleaning and refurbishing.
Let’s backtrack for a moment and reiterate how justifiably aggressive the Dolphins have been in undertaking their remodeling. They didn’t like the look of 7-9 in Joe Philbin’s first year as head coach, and are trying to do something about it.
That’s more than swell. That’s as it should be. But it doesn’t mean there isn’t room for a few words of warning.
Long was oft-injured recently and not nearly as good as he once was, but still was Miami’s second-best offensive lineman – at a position of importance in terms of protecting right-handed quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s blind side – behind center Mike Pouncey.
Now, he is off to St. Louis.
Long, the No. 1 overall draft choice in 2008, joins several other former mainstays the Dolphins chose to let go through free agency or release.
Reggie Bush was Miami’s best running back, and he’ll play for Detroit. Sean Smith was the Dolphins’ best cover corner, and he’ll play for Kansas City. Anthony Fasano was the team’s best tight end, and he’ll play for Kansas City, too. Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett, linebackers both, were cut, and Burnett will play for Oakland.
Do the likes of Long, Bush, Smith, Fasano, Dansby and Burnett represent the NFL elite? No, but they were among – what? – Miami’s best dozen or so players last season.
The Dolphins’ tactic has been to be a big element in the free-agent marketplace. They chose to spend, largely, on replacements rather than holdovers.
“We got younger and faster,” team owner Stephen Ross enthused.
But did the Dolphins got better? It’s the all-in risk of such a substantial plan.
They needed a speedy wide receiver, and got Michael Wallace (Pittsburgh), and complemented him with Brandon Gibson (St. Louis). They signed linebackers Dannell Ellerbe (Baltimore) and Philip Wheeler (Oakland). They landed tight end Dustin Keller (New York Jets).
Did the Dolphins overspend? Probably, but that’s the nature of the free-agency beast, and not worthy of rebuke.
One franchise’s trash is another franchise’s treasure, and all that.
Miami obviously thinks a committee of unproven running backs – Lamar Miller, Daniel Thomas and Marcus Thigpen – means Bush won’t be missed. The Dolphins hope Wallace makes Tannehill a better quarterback by giving him a deep option, believe they have upgraded at tight end and linebacker and view the shift of Jonathan Martin from right tackle to left tackle as a possible fix for the loss of Long.
If it is Martin replacing Long, replacing Martin could come from one of a slew of draft picks the Dolphins hold … or through more free-agent activity.
The reconstruction is incomplete, in other words.
The lowest the bar will be set is an improvement from 7-9. How well Miami does in that regard will depend on how much they miss, or don’t miss, some of last season’s headliners.
Were the Dolphins correct about considering Bush too inconsistent? Were they correct about considering Smith too immature to be long-term valuable? Were they correct about considering Long goods too damaged to be worth the money he wanted?
They have identified Tannehill, Pouncey, wide receiver Brian Hartline, defensive tackles Randy Starks and Paul Soliai and defensive end Cameron Wake as their most valuable returnees. The Dolphins made the re-signings of Hartline and Starks a priority for a reason.
It’s a good core.
The guy who deserves credit for Miami’s new look is General Manager Jeff Ireland, who has been much maligned through the years. He has been the point man on the imports and exports.
“We put a lot into getting in this position,” Ireland said at the NFL scouting combine last month. “We’re in this position by design. It’s a very critical period for us.”
A lyric from an old Bob Seger tune is appropriate in terms of Ireland’s decisions:
“What to leave in, what to leave out.”
The name of the song?
“Against the Wind”