Tuesday, April 22, 2008

True Shot, Not Long Shot

In the $6Billion business that is the NFL, there is very little room for patience. As veteran players get older and new, young players get richer, the pressure to produce a winning product grows greater and greater with each passing season. This is clearly evidenced by the now routine coaching carousel that consumes TV network analysts and web bloggers alike. Win and you're in. Lose and get lost.

So it’s with a sense of pleasant surprise the Miami Dolphins chose the path of patience – also known as rebuilding – and came to terms with Michigan offensive tackle Jake Long to make him the number one pick in this weekend’s draft. Sure, there aren’t many sexy picks in this year’s selection as there have been in recent years, but the temptation is always there to go with the big name or rising star with the number one overall pick.

By any account, Jake Long is not the best player in this draft. Hands down, Darren McFadden is the best athlete of the crop, if not the best player, and Matt Ryan is clearly the top QB of the bunch. Glen Dorsey or Chris Long would make great additions to a stellar yet aging Dolphins defense. Instead, Team President Bill Parcells, General Manager Jeff Ireland and Head Coach Tony Sparano decided to lay the foundation for what they hope will be an offense that is able to score more than just 17 points per game (26th overall in the NFL in 2007).

By selecting Long, the Dolphins are showing they’re committed to fixing their offensive problems long term. More importantly, Long’s selection at left tackle grants the Fins some flexibility to shift players along the O-Line, and provides second-year quarterback John Beck with an added sense of security that he won’t get killed from his blind side.

The early signing also has other GM’s around the league smiling, knowing the spending ceiling has now been set by the Dolphins. Long’s 5-year, $57.75 million contract ($30 million of which is guaranteed) is extraordinary when you consider his per year average is about $200k more than last year’s number one overall pick Jamarcus Russell. True, Russell held out with the Raiders and most likely settled for his contract in order to sign and obtain some playing time in 2007. Nevertheless, Russell is a 6’6”, 255lb franchise-type quarterback capable of throwing the ball 60 yards from his knees. Long is simply a good, solid player and there’s no way to compare the overall value of an offensive lineman unless his name is Jim Langer, Larry Little or Dwight Stephenson.

I hope my fellow DolFans will show the same patience this year as the organization appears to be showing now. There is no realistic expectation of a winning season for Miami in 2008, especially when you consider that 2-14 would be a 100% improvement from last year. That being said, the only thing to do is wait and watch as Parcells and his disciples put together building block after building block and restore a tradition of winning to South Florida.

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