Miami Dolphins left tackle Jake Long may have played his final game in a Dolphins uniform on Sunday.
The former first-overall draft pick injured his left triceps in the first half of Sunday's loss to the New England Patriots, and the team fears the injury could end his season.
What's more, Long, who can become an unrestricted free agent after the season, might not return to the Dolphins. The team has the option to give him a franchise tag, meaning Long would be paid $15.4 million by the team in 2013 and become a free agent thereafter.
But if the team does not franchise the 27-year-old player, he could receive more money than the Dolphins are willing to pay on the open market. Considering how Long has struggled this season compared to his first four years, he might not be worth the steep price tag.
The Dolphins have a number of areas to address this offseason, including its wide receivers and defensive secondary. Players at those positions do not always come cheap.
There is no denying Long is a top talent at his position. He has been selected to the Pro Bowl in each of his first four seasons, and he will likely make another Pro Bowl this year.
Even so, Miami might not want to pay a premium for Long's declining production (heading into Sunday, he had given up 4 sacks and 9 quarterback hurries through 11 games).
Rookie Jonathan Martin moved from right tackle to the left side to replace Long on Sunday. He played his college career at left tackle, meaning the Dolphins could conceivably plug him into Long's position permanently and find a right tackle (which usually comes much cheaper than a left tackle) through free agency or the draft.
"He did a good job. He played well," Philbin said of Martin Monday. "He has a bunch of reps in his history from college playing over there. Here he doesn't get a lot of repetitions over there, but I thought he made a good adjustment in the middle of the game."
The team has not commented on Long's injury publicly.
"He has been a good player for a long time, and he's the leader on the offense," quarterback Ryan Tannehill said. "So it's tough to replace him."