With week #1 of the National Football League (NFL) in the books, teams across the league are scrambling to assess current needs and to find replacement players for the injured. Earlier this week, the Atlanta Falcons called in former number one pick offensive tackle Jake Long for an evaluation. They must have like what they saw as they immediately signed him to a one-year deal. Details of the contract were not disclosed. This late addition should make for a decent run this season.
Both the 2013 and 2014 seasons came to a tragic ending for the veteran tackle as he was struck with back-to-back season ending ACL injuries while playing with the St. Louis Rams. The free agent signing comes as Long continues to rehabilitate his injured knee. At this point in time, the Falcons are content to leave him on the bench while he works his way back into playing shape. They also want to make sure the knee has had sufficient time to fully heal.
After signing a $36 million four-year deal with the Rams prior to the 2013 season, Long looked set to continue his All-Pro career. That was until he sustained his first ACL injury in the 15th game of the 2013 season versus the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. After an exhaustive effort to get back into shape before the start of 2014 season, he looked good and ready to go. On October 26 in a game against the Kansas City Chiefs, he went down again and knew right away it was the ACL. As a consequence of his second injury, the Rams were forced to release him in order to prevent taking a $10 million hit against the team’s salary cap. They simply couldn’t risk that happening for a player they weren’t sure was going to make it all the way back.
The Falcons seem more than happy to sign a veteran offensive lineman of this quality, injuries aside. It is not currently clear where he will play, but it is anticipated he will see practice time at multiple positions along the line. The Falcons are looking at him as an insurance policy on an offensive line that has three new starters to begin the new season.
Long played his college football with the Michigan Wolverines from 2004 through 2007. During his college career, he was named Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year and Consensus All-American after both the 2006 and 2007 seasons. At 6’7″ and 322 lbs, Long went into the NFL Combine and blew scouts away with his strength and agility.
The Miami Dolphins were sitting with the first pick in the 2008 draft and wasted little time beginning negotiations with Long and his agent. Just prior to draft day, a deal was finally reached, making the selection process nothing more than a formality. During his rookie season, he played as advertised and was named to the PFWA All-Rookie Team as well as the 2008 Pro Bowl.
After three more Pro Bowl seasons with the Dolphins, he decided to give the free agency market a look after turning down a contract extension offer from the Dolphins. He found a taker with the Rams, a team that was looking to build a strong offensive line to protect upstart QB Sam Bradford. After signing that big contract, he was again playing like a Pro Bowl tackle before injuries interrupted his career.