It has been a rough couple of years for pass rusher Chris Long as the son of Raiders great Howie Long hasn’t had much success or injury luck, the combination of injuries and the poor production that followed leading to Long being released by the Rams entering free agency. A release that was deserved, but was a slight shock and reality check that Long could be nearing the end of his career as a starter despite being a veteran leader in St. Louis for eight years.
Even with three sacks in 2015, Long just suddenly was no longer worth his contract with the Rams as they move to Los Angeles and a transition period after their veteran core couldn’t get the job done in the tough NFC West. Sending Long to free agency as a second tier free agent in the latter stage of his career with a recent injury history and low production entering the open market.
Luckily for Long, perhaps the perfect situation has opened up for him as he will be heading to the franchise most known for getting the most out of players needing a second opportunity as he signed with the New England Patriots. A move that came with the team trading their starting defensive end Chandler Jones to the Arizona Cardinals, opening up a potential starting job for Long with the annual Super Bowl contenders.
Now Long has a chance to become a very relevant player on a very relevant team that offers him the chance to chase a Super Bowl while also being able to chase one more big payday if he can contribute as a member of the Patriots defensive front. An opportunity that few teams offer, except for the Patriots who seem to recycle player after player in this mold of one year deals that players springboard into better contracts the following season. Often with better teams or opting to take a lesser deal to chase a Super Bowl with the Pats.
The biggest factor in Long’s arrival in New England will be his health, something that has been the primary factor in his drop from a player who averaged over 10 sacks a season from 2010-2013 to have just four over the past two seasons. If Long is healthy, the Patriots have found a temporary cheap replacement for Chandler Jones while gaining a needed draft pick and adding offensive line help in Jonathan Cooper. If Long remains broken down and a shell of his former self, the Patriots will need to quickly find pass rush help elsewhere as a miss on Long will be magnified by the trade of Jones who was a player with 12.5 sacks last season for New England.
It is a gamble for both Long and the Patriots as Long will be gambling on himself while New England will be betting on an undervalued veteran pass rusher getting healthy enough to contribute close to his prime level. Because of all of those factors, it will be interesting to watch Long’s 2016 season develop as a player who once was good for double digit sacks will be looking to find his form and continue the mystic of the Patriots getting their most out of players who were once seemingly on the decline.