When assessing the value of a looming free agent, one of the most overlooked factors is a team’s ability to replace him.
For teams faced with the possibility of losing a tackle to free agency, this year it’ll be pretty easy to fill the position.
There’s a glut of free-agent tackles due to hit the market, and tackle is regarded as one of the deepest talent pools in this year’s draft. So if the Dolphins opt not to pay Jake Long $15 million under the franchise tag or to give him a long-term deal with the franchise number serving as the starting point, the Dolphins will have options.
Ditto for other teams, like the Chiefs. Instead of spending big money to keep Branden Albert, Kansas City could simply use the first overall pick on Texas A&M tackle Luke Joeckel, nailing down the position for at least the next five years. Or the Chiefs could sign one of the other tackles who’ll be available on the open market — especially after the first week, when the money slows down.
In New England, if Sebastian Vollmer wants too much money, the Pats could opt to go with Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon, supplementing the position with veterans who will be begging for work once the free-agent music stops playing.
This reality makes the Broncos’ reported willingness to use the franchise tag on Ryan Clady a little confusing. It could be, however, that the Broncos are more concerned about continuity, given that there’s a narrow window within which Peyton Manning can pursue another Super Bowl win.
Still, plenty of alternatives will be available in free agency, from Demetress Bell (who was cut this week by the Eagles) to Sam Baker to Gosder Cherilus to Winston Justice to Phil Loadholt to Bryant McKinnie to Andre Smith to Jermon Bushrod to Long, Albert, and Vollmer.
The sheer numbers, coupled with the influx of rookie tackles, will make it difficult to get paid. Long could have the best luck to get a big deal on the open market, given the sizzle that goes along with being the first pick in the 2008 draft. Though it’s believed his play has declined in recent years, there likely will be a team both with a need and the cap room to make a splash, if/when the Dolphins decide not to tender a franchise tag reflecting a 20-percent raise over the eight-figure cap number that applied to Long in 2012.