Jake Long’s season-ending triceps injury doesn’t change much for his future outlook as he heads to free agency, unless the Dolphins get concerned about his durability. We heard before this season that the club’s confidence in Long hadn’t wavered, even though he ended the 2011 campaign on injured reserve and was entering a new blocking scheme in ’12.
The franchise tag remains an option — an expensive one, at that — but in the final four weeks of the season, the Dolphins can see what they have at the tackle position, should Long leave via free agency.
Rookie Jonathan Martin, who started the first 12 games of the season at right tackle, has moved to left tackle, where he started 26 games at Stanford, protecting Andrew Luck’s blind side. He has struggled this season, giving up 5.25 sacks, according to Stats LLC, and has quite the test in Week 14 against 49ers OLB Aldon Smith, the league's leading sacker. Considered a developmental player coming out of college who should begin his career on the right side, Martin would need to put together quite a December to show he is a long-term option at the OLT position, if necessary.
Veteran Nate Garner will assume the ORT spot, and he can use the last month as an audition for free agency. Garner is known for his versatility and has 44 games and nine starts under his belt.
The intriguing Will Yeatman moves up to become the top backup at both OT spots. A converted tight end who played lacrosse in college, Yeatman lacks experience but has upside.
“He’s an athlete,” head coach Joe Philbin told reporters on Wednesday. “I think we value athleticism at every position and if you can get a 305-pound guy that’s athletic and moves and loves the game and is a worker, maybe you have something.”
Philbin and the rest of the Dolphins will find out in the final month what they have in Martin, Garner and Yeatman, and poor protection down the stretch may give the club more incentive to keep Long in Miami.