“Another disappointment,” Long said when asked for his takeaway from the season. “It’s tough to not reach our goal, but I really believe in the guys in this locker room. We do have a lot of talent and a lot of good people. I’ve never been in a locker room that was so tight. We certainly have been through a lot of ups and downs, but it’s going to happen. I have a lot of faith in that and our coaches and the players in this locker room.”
Long, 30, is the longest tenured Rams player but has yet to experience a winning season. The No. 2 overall pick in the 2008 Draft recently completed his eighth season with the team and it’s possible it was his last season with the Rams.
The veteran defensive end has had two injury-plagued seasons that have limited his availability, effectiveness and potential value going forward. He finished 2015 with 26 tackles, 20 quarterback pressures and three sacks, which tied defensive tackle Michael Brockers for fourth on the team, in 12 games.
Long had just one sack in six games the previous season, giving him a total of four in 18 games in 2014-15 after recording at least 8.5 in four straight seasons from 2010 to 2013.
The University of Virginia product has one year remaining on the four-year, $48.2 million contract extension he signed back in 2012. His cap number, according to OverTheCap.com, is $14.25 million for the 2016 season.
If the Rams release Long this offseason, they will be hit with $2.5 million in dead money on their salary cap but will save $11.75 million. With approximately one-third of the 53-man roster going into this offseason as either restricted or unrestricted free agents, that is money they may choose to use to re-sign younger players who may figure more prominently into their future.
Long is well aware of his contract situation and knew that 2015 would be a big year for him. But after another injury-plagued season, he’s focused on getting healthy and returning to the pre-injury form that made him one of the NFL’s better left defensive ends.
“I’m really just excited to have a healthy offseason, finally getting right,” he said. “I’ve got to work my ass off this offseason to get back to me physically. It’s no secret I haven’t been myself for two years now. That’s something that I have to earn that back and I look forward to the challenge.”
Long, who has 54.5 career sacks, played in every game in his first six seasons before getting hurt in the 2014 season opener. He played in 97 straight games before missing time with his first major injury.
“I’ve had two injuries the past two years and they’ve been injuries that are major enough to have me miss a lot of time,” Long said. “… Your health is your health. This is a game where you get hurt. I’m very motivated to get back to being me. I don’t want to play this game if I’m not going to be myself. It’s no fun being average.”