The St. Louis Rams suffered a costly injury in Sunday's win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Left tackle Jake Long hurt his knee in the first half of the game, on a non-contact injury. The broadcast crew reported at halftime that the Rams feared Long tore his ACL. He'll undergo further tests on Monday to determine the full extent of the damage.
It was a non-contact injury. You can see where it happened in the GIF below:
Rodger Saffold replaced Long on the left side for the rest of the game. The Rams will be without Long in the season finale next week in Seattle. They are also likely to start the season without him in 2014. An ACL tear can require anywhere from eight to 12 months for a full recovery, depending on the extent of the damage.
The Rams signed Long to a relatively team-friendly deal in free agency last spring. His four-year, $34 million deal includes just $16 million guaranteed, but it's not structured in a way that the Rams could move on from him in 2014. He has a cap hit of $9.25 million. Cutting him would save just $1.5 million.
It would also leave the Rams short on tackles ... again. Saffold is schedule to hit unrestricted free agency in the spring. His versatility is valuable to the Rams, but his ability to play tackle may be more valuable in a league starved for outside pass protectors.
It makes the idea of drafting an offensive tackle even harder to ignore, especially in a draft stocked with them. With a top-five pick, they could go after Jake Matthews of Texas A&M, but a pick in the middle of the draft would still leave the Rams with plenty of options. Florida State's Cameron Erving, Michigan's Taylor Lewan, and Alabama's Cyrus Kouandjio are all potential first-round picks. Another name to watch is Auburn tackle Greg Robinson. He's undecided about making the jump in 2014, but if he does, he's another first-round candidate.
All of those names are possibilities, but they're also rookies. Even the best rookies can struggle on the left side when making the jump. With a rookie on the left side and a relatively untested Joe Barksdale on the right, the Rams' big expectations for 2014 are resting on two unknown bookends.