King Kaufman's Sports Daily

Dolphins avoid holdout mess by signing No. 1 pick Jake Long before the draft. This Parcells guy must know what he's doing. Plus: NHL playoffs.


King Kaufman
April 23, 2008 2:00PM (UTC)

The Miami Dolphins have signed Michigan offensive tackle Jake Long to a long-term contract and they'll make him the No. 1 pick in Saturday's NFL draft.

Do you get the idea that with Bill Parcells running things, the Dolphins finally have half an idea of what they're doing?

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Long is a 6-foot-7, 313-pound left tackle who'll anchor the Dolphins offensive line for years to come if everything goes according to plan, or even if just some things do. The team, which went 1-15 last year -- and wasn't as good as that record suggests -- signed him for five years, with $30 million guaranteed.

That's a step down from last year's No. 1 contract, which guaranteed Oakland Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russell as much as $32 million if he reaches certain milestones. But the more important difference is the timing. Russell held out for all of training camp and the exhibition season, finally signing in September. His rookie season was almost a total loss. Long signed before he was even drafted, and he'll be present at the first workout.

Skipping your first NFL training camp while haggling over a few million dollars -- out of dozens of millions on the table -- is a good way to get yourself into this photo gallery, part of Sports Illustrated's fabulous new online archive, known as the S.I. Vault.

Enter the vault at the risk of your own productivity, but the photo essay is called "Top (NFL) Draft Busts of the Modern Era."

It's just as bad and just as dumb for the team to engage in the summer-long staredown as it is for the player. Each side should get the best deal it can, but each simply must get the deal done and get the kid in camp. I have no idea if Long is the best player in Saturday's draft, but if the Dolphins think so, they and Long both did the right thing this week.

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What I find strange is that Long becomes only the fourth offensive lineman in NFL history taken with the overall top pick.

The last time it happened was in 1997, when the St. Louis Rams took Orlando Pace, who turned out OK. Before that, the Minnesota Vikings took Ron Yary first in 1968. He ended up in the Hall of Fame. The other was Ki Aldrich, who I don't have to tell you was taken No. 1 by the Chicago Cardinals in 1939.

Leaving out Aldrich, who played when the ball was a live hedgehog and the shoes were made of tree bark, and with all due caveats for sample size, taking an offensive lineman with the first pick tends to work out pretty well, wouldn't you say? I would think that roughly every other overall No. 1 should be an offensive lineman, usually a left tackle, with most of the rest being defensive linemen.

If you're building a team from nothing, which the team with the No. 1 pick is generally doing, you start with the lines. A great quarterback is nice to have, but we saw in Houston from 2002 to 2006 what happens when a potential franchise quarterback lines up behind a bad offensive line. It's a lot cheaper and easier to sign a journeyman to get knocked on his ass every third play. Build the line first.

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The Texans, perhaps having learned their lesson, took defensive end Mario Williams with the first pick in 2006, famously letting super-skilled running back Reggie Bush go. Williams was only the second defensive lineman to go No. 1 since 1994, the other being Courtney Brown with Cleveland in 2000.

But there was something of a vogue for defensive linemen in the three decades before that. From 1963 to 1994, the top pick was a defensive lineman 11 times in 32 years. That group includes Hall of Famers Buck Buchanan and Lee Roy Selmon and future Hall of Famer Bruce Smith, plus stars Bubba Smith and Ed "Too Tall" Jones.

I'm not saying it always works out. The defensive line group also includes Brown and Steve Emtman and Kenneth Sims. Look at offensive linemen taken with the first three picks, let's say, in the past 20 years and you get Leonard Davis and Tony Mandarich.

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But of course it doesn't always work out with quarterbacks either. Just looking at No. 1s, the past 20 years have brought Jeff George, Tim Couch, Michael Vick, David Carr and, with the jury perhaps still out, Alex Smith.

So far, JaMarcus Russell's in that group too, thanks at least in part to his long holdout last year. The Dolphins and Jake Long have avoided that mistake.

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NHL playoffs [PERMALINK]

A couple of pretty good Game 7s Tuesday night, with the Philadelphia Flyers eliminating the Washington Capitals 3-2 in overtime on the road and the San Jose Sharks taking care of the Calgary Flames at home, 5-3.

Sharks-Flames wasn't great, as seventh games go, but I'm a Sharks fan, so I enjoyed watching them take a 5-2 lead with a four-goal outburst over a nine-minute stretch in the second period, the crowd going wild. Jeremy Roenick, who had two goals and two assists, has a chance to be this year's Old Guy Trying to Get His First Stanley Cup.

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Flyers-Caps was a lot more entertaining, this column's rooting interests aside. It was a tense, rough Game 7 that hinged on a couple of controversial calls that both went against Washington.

On Philadelphia's second goal midway through the second period Patrick Thoresen, heading to the net, drove Washington's Shaone Morrisonn into goaltender Cristobal Huet, who went down, leaving a wide-open goal as the puck floated out to Sami Kapanen, who banged it home as Huet lay on his back. That gave the Flyers a 2-1 lead.

The call could have gone either way: Disallow the goal because Thoresen, by shoving Morrisonn into Huet, had impaired the goalie's ability to move in the crease, or no call.

It went the latter way and Philly had the lead. Alex Ovechkin tied the game six minutes later when the Flyers turned the puck over at the blue line right onto his stick. He went in alone on goalie Martin Biron and scored.

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The Capitals dominated the third period but couldn't score. Joffrey Lupul scored the game winner 6:06 into overtime when Huet made a save on Kimmo Timonen's slap shot, but left a big rebound, which he couldn't find. As Huet looked to his left, Lupul calmly backhanded the puck into the net from his right.

The series winner came on a power play resulting from a tripping penalty on defenseman Tom Poti, who said, "It's tough to beat the officials as well as the Flyers." He also said he didn't think what he did to R.J. Umberger in the overtime deserved a tripping penalty.

It did. He whacked Umberger's ankles with a swinging stick as the Flyers center skated along the boards at center ice with the puck. Then again, the officials hadn't called a penalty in more than 30 minutes of a physical game, and not long before they'd let it go when John Erskine of the Caps had tripped Kapanen at almost the same spot on the ice with a diving attempt at a poke check.

The Flyers win deprives the NHL of an Ovechkin-Sidney Crosby matchup in the second round, but it gets the next best thing, Crosby and his Pittsburgh Penguins vs. the New York Rangers. The Flyers will play the Montreal Canadiens. In the West the Sharks will meet the Dallas Stars, with the Detroit Red Wings renewing their old playoff rivalry with the Colorado Avalanche. They met in the playoffs five times in seven years from 1996 to 2002.

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  • King Kaufman

    King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

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