Rams eyeing replacement for Jake Long?

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Could this be Jake Long's last season in St. Louis?

We'll get to that draft rumor in a minute. First, let's talk about an aside from Jason LaCanfora's article about the St. Louis Rams and their offensive tackle needs.

The CBS scribe notes Greg Robinson and Jake Matthews as two distinct possibilities for the Rams at No. 2. He goes on to add this:

Their need for a tackle is acute, they don't know how long Jake Long will hold up physically and would like to get out from under his contract, too.

First off, I'd debate just how "acute" the need for a tackle is. Yes, it is a need, and an important one, but the Rams are saying publicly that they expect Jake Long back in time for Week 1. And there's also Joe Barksdale, who played pretty well on the right side last year.

But let's focus on Long. I have my doubts that he'll be ready for Week 1 after his ACL repair. However, his timeline is such that he could be ready to go early enough in the season, before the Rams hit that brutal stretch of schedule after their bye week.

Long's injury history and age is the primary reason the Rams need to start thinking about his eventual replacement, hence the interest in Robinson or Matthews, but this will only be his second season in St. Louis. He also happens to be coming off a pretty good season last year. His run blocking was among the best of any tackle in the league, and his work as a pass protector was nothing to overlook.

But is Long's contract really a problem for the Rams?

The Rams inked Long to a four-year, $34 million deal with just $16 million guaranteed. For context, Braden Albert signed a five-year, $46 million deal with Miami this season. Both Long and Albert were first-round picks in 2008. Rodger Saffold re-signed with the Rams for five years, $31.2 million and $19.5 million guaranteed.

That's a very team-friendly deal the Rams gave Long. The issue with it is its rising cap charges over the last three years of the deal. It cost the Rams just $4.25 million against the cap last year. That went up exactly five million dollars this year to $9.25 million. Next year, the cap charge jumps to $10.5 million and $10 million in 2016, the final year of the deal. Right now, that's the third largest cap hit for 2015, right behind Chris Long and, of course, Sam Bradford.

Cutting Long after this season would leave the Rams with just $2.5 million in dead money from his deal in 2015, according to Over the Cap.

Restructuring Long's deal doesn't make much sense given his age -- he turns 29 this month -- and his injury history. And that cap hit looks like a doozy beyond this season. All of which makes you wonder that if the Rams do draft an offensive tackle, will this be Long's last season in St. Louis?

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