The old adage in NFL free agency is that if a player comes to visit your town and team, you’d best not let him depart without signing a contract. Otherwise, the maxim goes, that player is bound to end up elsewhere.
Taking an old axiom such as that and pairing it with today’s social media craze can lead to quite an interesting study in how closely the NFL is studied and followed by its legions of fans.
Nobody has learned that lesson better than new Rams offensive tackle
To get to that point, though, Long had to endure a wild free agent journey that saw Dolphins and Rams fans lining up to create movements to bring Long to their respective teams.
“I was aware of it,” Long said Wednesday. “I’m not a big Twitter guy but my wife likes it. I was following it a little bit but in the end we had to sit down and figure out what was right for myself and my wife and our family and this is the right place.”
In reaching that conclusion, Long took a little different path than most of his free agent brethren. Most free agent deals are already essentially in place by the time the market opens and the new league year starts.
The majority of free agents jump to the highest bidder and simply change teams without batting an eye. Some don’t even bother to take visits. Long scheduled a trip to St. Louis on the evening of March 12, the first day of the new league year.
Upon arrival in St. Louis, Long met with coach Jeff Fisher, general manager Les Snead and chief operating officer Kevin Demoff. The group plus Long’s wife Jackie went to dinner that night.
The following day, the Rams put Long through one of the most extensive physicals in recorded free agent history.
By his recollection, Long spent six hours in an MRI tube where he says he had “every part of my body” examined thoroughly. For a 6’7, 320 pounds NFL player, that day in St. Louis was quite literally anything but a day at the beach.
But considering a recent injury history that includes triceps and biceps injuries that cost him six games in the past two seasons as well as shoulder and knee issues previously, the Rams wanted to be thorough, something Long completely understood.
“They wanted to make sure my body was doing great and I was happy to do it because I wanted to show them and prove to everybody that my body is feeling good and I’m feeling healthy,” Long said. “So I was happy to go through it and they were happy with how the results came out so it all worked out in the end.”
While Long was holed up in an MRI tube for most of the day, the instant gratification world of Twitter began to grow a bit restless even though Long hadn’t even been in town for 24 hours yet.
As no news leaked out aside from the understanding that Long had gone through the physicals with no red flags and appeared on track to be fully healthy sooner than later, Rams fans began to have some fun with the apparent “hold up,” starting a hashtag on Twitter involving things they were doing #WhileWaiting4Jake.
As momentum seemed to be heading in the direction of a deal, Long and his wife stayed in St. Louis for another day and then another, going to multiple dinners with Rams executives and waiting for the contractual side of things to work itself out.
The waiting and wondering going on in the social media world was exceeded only by what was going on in the mind of Long and his wife.
“I was hoping to get something done quickly but in the end both sides had to be happy with the deal that was getting done,” Long said. “It took a little longer than expected but in the end I think it worked out great.”
After spending his first five years in Miami, where he earned trips to four Pro Bowls and established himself as one of the league’s premiere left tackles, Long’s equation wasn’t quite so simple as making dollars and sense.
By nature, Long is a loyal guy, the type who had grown attached to his teammates, coaches and fans in south Florida. Guard Richie Incognito, a former Ram himself, started a movement on Twitter to bring Long back, pleading his case with a hashtag #BringJakeHome that ‘Phins fans adopted in droves.
So while Long took the immediate visit to St. Louis soon after free agency began, he had to find a way to weigh the possibilities of a new home for he and his wife, Jackie, against staying in the only NFL home he’d ever known.
“Miami has been our home for the past five years,” Long said. “The fans were great, my teammates were amazing and (owner) Mr. (Stephen) Ross gave me my first chance in the NFL so I wanted to think everything through. That’s a great organization. I just wanted to weigh everything out and make sure we were making the right decision and sleep on it and be in our bed and just relax for a little bit.”
That’s why Long and his wife departed to head to home to Miami on that Friday afternoon, a little less than three full days after arriving in St. Louis.
With the Longs on a plane back to Florida, many Rams fans became resigned to the idea that the big fish had gotten off the hook. Over the next couple of days, rumors began flying that Long was at the Dolphins facility and some national reporters even began guessing that Long was destined to re-sign in Miami.
With all sides on pins and needles, Long eventually couldn’t get past what St. Louis had to offer.
“I just really fell in love when I came here,” Long said. “And Coach Fisher, I spent a lot of time with him and Kevin Demoff and Les Snead and just really fell in love with it. Their philosophy, their mindset, their love for the game and just how happy they are to come to work every single day and the visions they had. I just really fell in love with it and I’m excited to play for them.”
For additional reassurance, Long made some phone calls to some people close to him with experience in St. Louis. Long’s little brother Joe spent last preseason with the Rams before he was released in final cuts and had nothing but positive things to say to his big brother about Fisher and offensive line coach Paul Boudreau.
Speaking of Boudreau, Long had a prior relationship with the Rams’ fiery line coach from the buildup to the 2008 NFL Draft when Long went through a workout with Atlanta and Boudreau, who was then the Falcons line coach.
Long also put in a call to Rams defensive end
“Everything I heard from those guys was the same things that I thought and the same feelings I had about their philosophy here, how much fun they have here and up and coming this team is so I’m glad I got to be able to talk to them,” Long said.
Long chose the Rams around 11 p.m. on March 17, more than five days after the free agent market opened. That’s essentially a lifetime for a big name free agent of Long’s stature. He didn’t officially sign until 10 days later but he and his wife arrived in St. Louis last weekend and Long has already been hard at work in the weight room and in rehab with head athletic trainer Reggie Scott.
“My body is coming along and I’m just excited to show people that I’m back to my normal self and I’m ready to get to work,” Long said.
Long figures to plug in right away at the blindside protector for quarterback
Schematically, Long said he’ll have no trouble fitting into a Rams offense that calls for offensive linemen to handle both zone and man blocking concepts. He also hopes to bring an added element of leadership to an offense with a lot of youth at the skill positions.
Beyond that, Long is eager to prove that he’s healthy and still an elite tackle in the NFL. By his own admission, he’s heard the whispers about his production falling off and he’s set to use it as motivation from the day he steps on the field in St. Louis.
“It definitely does,” Long said. “I’ve had people doubt me before and I’ve proven them wrong. I have no problem with going out there and proving to people and showing people that I am still a great player and I can do things to help this team win.”
There’s little doubt that would give people something to talk about.