One of the biggest questions facing the Miami Dolphins this spring will be whether to offer former first-overall draft pick Jake Long a contract extension or to let him explore free agency. On Tuesday, Long said he would be willing to stay in Miami, but the ball is in the Dolphins' court.
"The last five years I've really enjoyed being a part of the Dolphins," Long told NFL.com on Tuesday. "They have such a great tradition of football there. The community and fans have really embraced me and I've loved playing there."
But when asked whether he would like to stay a member of the Dolphins, Long replied, "We're going to have to see." He earned $11.2 million in base salary from the Dolphins last season, but the team is reluctant to pay him the kind of salary that would make him among the best-paid offensive linemen in the NFL.
"I'd be open to continue my career there, but it's essentially on them, see what they want to do and what direction they want to head in and go from there," Long added. "That's the business side of it so we'll see what they want to do."
According to The Miami Herald, the Dolphins have made multiple offers to Long, but none that have satisfied him. Among the reasons Miami might not to pay him $10 million or more per year are his recent injury issues and a less-than-stellar 2012 season.
Long missed the last four games of last season, going on injured reserve with a torn triceps. He also went on IR late in the 2011 season with a torn biceps. In 2012, Long struggled against elite pass rushers like Indianapolis' Dwight Freeney and Seattle's Chris Clemons.
Still, the advanced statistics gurus at Pro Football Focus rank Long as the second-best free agent offensive tackle on the market this offseason (behind Sebastian Vollmer, formerly of New England).
Long says he is not worried about his past injuries, saying, "The last couple of years I've had some injuries I've had to work through, it hasn't been the ideal situation, but I've been working hard this offseason to get healthy and get strong.
"And this is the best my body has felt in a long time, and I'm just excited to get a deal done and focus on football and get back to work for 2013."
Miami has enough room under the salary cap to give Long a large payday, but with so many other needs to address (including cornerback, wide receiver, and running back), the team may wish to plug in Jonathan Martin at Long's left tackle spot and find a cheaper option to replace Martin at right tackle.