4-22-08 -- Jake Long seemed at ease in his new role as the NFL’s No. 1 draft pick, leaning into a news conference microphone to talk about his mean streak while his mother sat in the corner, nodding as she smiled.
The Miami Dolphins were grinning Tuesday, too. They signed the Michigan left tackle to a five-year contract with $30 million guaranteed, and they’ll select him with the top pick in the draft Saturday.
The deal allows the Dolphins and Long to avoid a possible holdout.
“It’s really important for us to know Jake is going to be on the field for us on time when training camp begins in July,” coach Tony Sparano said. “That was critical.”
Long’s total contract package is for $57.75 million, said a person familiar with the negotiations who didn’t want to be identified because the Dolphins declined to reveal terms. Last year’s top pick, JaMarcus Russell, signed for $61 million with the Oakland Raiders but missed all of training camp before reaching a deal.
Long becomes the highest-paid lineman in the NFL and a 6-foot-7, 315-pound cornerstone in a rebuilding project for the new Dolphins regime led by Bill Parcells. Last season Miami went 1-15, and the offensive line has been a chronic problem in recent years.
“Jake was our guy from the beginning,” general manager Jeff Ireland said. “Jake Long was on the top of our board for a long time. There wasn’t a whole lot of debate. We thought it was a very good fit with the Miami Dolphins.”
With many other needs as well, the Dolphins were interested in trading the top pick for multiple lower choices. When no suitors surfaced, they began negotiations last week with Long’s agent, Tom Condon.
“It’s such a great honor to be the No. 1 pick,” Long said. “I don’t think it has sunk in yet. It’s something every kid dreams about. I’m just real excited that it happened. Now I’m coming to a great place.”
Long flew to South Florida with his parents Tuesday morning for the news conference. The Dolphins said they didn’t conduct contract talks with any other potential picks.
“It was a very straightforward negotiation,” Condon said. “They didn’t leverage us with other players, and we didn’t tell them we wanted to be on some different team or any of those kinds of things.”
Reaching a contract agreement before the draft isn’t unprecedented. The Houston Texans signed defensive end Mario Williams as their No. 1 pick on the eve of the 2006 draft.
Condon, who represents several top prospects, said there’s enough time for the Rams to reach a deal with a player before they make the second pick Saturday.
“My understanding is St. Louis is on the clock,” Condon said with a smile.
The only other offensive lineman taken with the No. 1 choice since 1970 was Ohio State tackle Orlando Pace, who made the Pro Bowl seven consecutive times after joining the Rams in 1997. The Dolphins would be thrilled with a comparable achievement by Long.
“Jake has all the qualities we’re looking for in our linemen,” said Sparano, who coached the offensive line with the Dallas Cowboys. “He’s very tough, smart and disciplined. Those are the people we want to surround ourselves with here.”
Long said he’s glad he’ll be reporting to training camp on time, because he’ll need to adjust to the faster speed of the NFL game.
Temperament won’t be an issue, he said.
“I’m mean on the field,” he said. “I’m a very nice guy off the field. When I buckle up that helmet, I change. It’s football mode. I go out there and try to bury the guy and make sure they don’t touch the quarterback or running back.”
Long started 40 games at Michigan and was Big Ten offensive lineman of the year in 2006 and 2007. He finished second to LSU defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey in balloting last season for the Lombardi and Outland trophies.
Lloyd Carr, who coached Long at Michigan, said he had several conversations with Parcells in recent weeks.
“I know this: Jake Long is his type of player,” Carr said. “Jake is passionate about the game, and I don’t think there is anything that he lacks.”
The Dolphins decided to use the top pick on offense rather than take Dorsey, Virginia defensive end Chris Long or Ohio State linebacker Vernon Gholston. It turns out Ireland’s comment last week about drafting “a pillar of your defense” was a slip of the tongue—or a smoke screen.
“That’s for me to know, and you to guess about,” Ireland said with a smile.
The drama may be missing, but Long still plans to fly to New York on Wednesday and attend the draft. The Dolphins have eight other picks and four of the first 64, and they remain in the market for more offensive linemen, a quarterback, a receiver, a tight end, cornerbacks, defensive linemen and linebackers.
At left tackle, they’re set.