If former Michigan offensive tackle Jake Long really wants to show some gratitude for the Miami Dolphins making him the number one pick in this year’s NFL draft, he could start by sending a few hundred thousand of the 30 some million dollars he’s getting in guaranteed money to Joe Thomas of the Cleveland Browns. If Thomas hadn’t made such a lasting impact at left tackle in his rookie season, the Dolphins would still be negotiating with either Darren McFadden or Matt Ryan.
It’s likely that many will read into Dolphins general manager Bill Parcells’ decision to make Long the first pick as a way of avoiding the lengthy holdout that is common these days when skill players are selected number one. Sort of like when the Houston Texans took defensive lineman Mario Williams with the first pick over Vince Young and Reggie Bush, two far more glamorous players.
There’s probably some of that, just as there’s probably something to the notion that linemen, even those selected first, cost a little less. But the breakout season that Thomas had in Cleveland cannot be overlooked either. When Parcells looks at the roster he inherited, he sees several holes that need to get filled. He could have gone in several directions, including quarterback. Most experts believe, for example, that the upside on Boston College’s Matt Ryan far exceeds that of current Dolphins quarterback John Beck.
If that’s true, it’s true in the same way that Brady Quinn’s upside seems higher than Derek Anderson’s. But when Parcells sees how Thomas (with a huge assist from Eric Steinbach) solidified a Cleveland line that had been a joke for 10 years, he starts to realize that the presence of Long is going to make Beck look a whole lot better, too. In fact, even newly acquired Josh McCown is going to look less like the journeyman he is playing behind Long.
One of the absolute truisms of football from the day it was invented until the last day it’s ever played is that games are won at the point of attack. Control the line, you control the outcome. I’d take a team with a good offensive line and Spergon Wynn as the quarterback every time over a team with a bad offensive line and Tom Brady behind center. You can’t run if there aren’t any holes and you can’t pass with a defensive lineman tugging at your underwear every play. The offensive scheme hasn’t been invented that can overcome an incompetent set of offensive linemen.