Sam Ekstrom contributed to this report.
As first reported by ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the Vikings signed offensive tackle Jake Long Tuesday morning, a former number one overall pick. He’s previously played offensive tackle for the Miami Dolphins and St. Louis Rams, as well as (briefly) for the Atlanta Falcons. I’m also told that he is an animated dragon.
Long (the tackle, not the dragon) has experience with offensive line coach Tony Sparano from his time in Miami and could be used to shore up the left tackle spot, where T.J. Clemmings has been struggling—especially last week against Whitney Mercilus and Jadeveon Clowney. Long practice primarily at left tackle on Tuesday morning.
Jake Long didn’t play much football in 2015—11 snaps before injury—and had an injury-shortened season in 2014. He in fact has quite the injury history, missing two games in 2011 because of a back injury, several games in 2012 because of a torn triceps muscle, and he tore his right ACL at the end of 2013 before once again tearing it in 2014.
“Injuries happen, and unfortunately I’ve had my fair share,” Long told the media on Tuesday, “but through all of them I’ve put my head down, I’ve rehabbed, worked hard, haven’t given up, and I know what I can do. I know the type of player I can be when I’m healthy.”
For those wondering about his overlap with another number one overall pick with experience playing for the Rams, Long and Sam Bradford had two years where they were both employees of the Rams organization—but only seven weeks of play, given Bradford’s injury troubles.
“I know the type of guy he is,” said Long. “He loves the game, plays hard, physical guy, and he takes a lot of hits, but he gets right back up, and so I knew he’d thrive when he came here, and he’s shown that, and he’s doing a great job for this team.”
Long also overlapped in Miami with current Vikings center Joe Berger and says the two are good friends.
The New York Giants worked Long out last year in the offseason and declined to sign him, and because of that, NJ.com produced a story where they have a quote from an NFL personnel executive on Long’s health: “Horrible. Was horrible before he signed in St. Louis. Mess.”
On the other hand, Long is a four-time Pro Bowler who earned those accolades by virtue of his play on the field; not just reputation or name recognition. Pro Football Focus gave him some fantastic grades, as Eric Thompson of the Daily Norseman notes:
I have some slightly different numbers based on the PFF grades I downloaded in previous years. In 2008, we have the same PFF score for him. In 2009, I have a score of +39.5 and in 2010 I have a score of +34.7. The 2011 score I have for Long is +12.1. We have the same disappointing 2012 score for Long, as well as the same excellent score he earned in 2013.
The specifics aren’t that relevant; the point is that in most seasons, Long played extremely well, earning PFF scores as the second or third-best offensive tackle in the NFL and never playing below average (because 0.0 is average in PFF’s scoring system, his -0.4 score is accurately described as “average”).
In contrast, T.J. Clemmings has earned negative game grades from PFF every week he’s played this year and he’s been a liability as both a pass protector and run blocker. Not only that, the help he required took eligible receivers out of the play, hurting the passing offense.
It’s an open question as to whether or not Long can perform at a high, or even serviceable level after not seeing the field for a year with multiple injuries to his name. Certainly, it fits the pattern of moves the Vikings have made to invest in talented, if somewhat less reliable (die to injury or inconsistency), players to continue their run.
The Vikings should be commended for immediately acting on a recognizable problem that could hamper their offense; something that felt lacking in previous years as Minnesota didn’t seem to do much to address their offensive line problem.
This year, they’ve added high-ceiling, low floor players like Andre Smith and Sam Bradford (if you consider injury as part of his floor) to cover or insure injuries at other positions. It seems like they’ll do it once more to protect their investments thus far.
It shouldn’t take very much time for Long to acclimate to the Vikings, given his familiarity with what Sparano does. We may see him soon.
“They’ve got a great group in there,” said Long. “Just today they were communicating with me. I knew most of the plays, but some of the things they were telling me where to go. Just the communication they have and the tight-knit group they have in there, they welcomed me in right away and helped me out with the things I needed.”