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Can Jake Long still be elite player for Miami Dolphins?

Is the Miami Dolphins' Jake Long still an elite tackle? (This has all the makings of a Joe Flacco discussion.)

Long certainly wasn't elite in 2012, and Pro Football Focus has him ranked the No. 24 free-agent tackle based solely on 2012 performance. That's behind Bryant McKinnie, Winston Justice and a pair of Detroit Lions backups in Jason Fox and Corey Hilliard.

Long, however, is a four-time Pro Bowl lineman who was a first-team All Pro in 2010. He's clearly a better talent than those four.

So, was Long's health the only problem? He's dealt with triceps, biceps, knee, back and shoulder issues the last two years that forced him to miss the final four games in 2012 and the last game of 2011. That certainly impacted his play. Dr. James Andrews, who performed the triceps surgery, told Yahoo Sports' Jason Cole that Long is good to go for the future.

"I just saw him (Wednesday), and he looked great," Andrews said. "I asked him about his knee and he said it's the best he has felt in years. Like I said, this is the kind of kid you want. I'm not worried about him at all."

Long has his eyes on an $11 million per year deal that is tough to justify based solely on 2012. He's still a first-rate pass blocker, but had issues in the run game. It doesn't help his cause that this is a deep tackle draft, and there is other talent in free agency.

Back to the original question: Is Long still an elite tackle? I believe so, with the thinking that 2012 was more exception than rule. His reputation probably is worse because people simply expect more from a former No. 1 overall pick who starred immediately. Long is just 27 years old.

The Dolphins don't seem poised to kick out $11 million per and were proactive by drafting Jonathan Martin in the second round last year. And they have a better read on Long than any other franchise. Someone will hand over a check in the $10 to $11 million range. Past performance indicates that a healthy Long is worth it.

Follow Kareem Copeland on Twitter @kareemcopeland.

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