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Washington Redskins: Brian Orakpo Should Be Team’s Top Priority This Offseason
- Updated: February 17, 2014
The Washington Redskins most talented and well-known defender is outside linebacker Brian Orakpo. For a team that is lacking the option to easily build through the draft due to the aftereffects of the Robert Griffin III trade, Washington needs to make signing its pro bowl pass-rusher to a long-term extension the top priority this offseason. Orakpo is set to become an unrestricted free agent with no one on his talent level to replace him. Washington has a recent history of spending lavishly in free agency, and they are in relatively good standing with the salary cap, projected to have nearly $24 million in cap space in 2014, according to Spotrac. Money isn’t the issue, at least currently. The big question is how far will Washington go to extend its best player on an underachieving defense?
I used the term “underachieving” to describe the team as a whole, of course. Individually, Orakpo had one of his best seasons in the pros in 2013, ranking as Pro Football Focus’s No. 4 3-4 outside linebacker, tallying 10 sacks and a career-high 43 tackles. This was after tearing his pectoral muscle two games into the 2012 season. Orakpo very well could have been in the Comeback Player of the Year running if the gruesome Shanahan/Griffin fiasco wasn’t etched into our minds.
Orakpo’s sack numbers don’t jump off the page like Justin Houston’s or Aldon Smith’s do. Part of that is defensive coordinator Jim Haslett dropping Orakpo into coverage more often than necessary. Chalk that up to Haslett stubbornly sticking with a certain philosophy, a desperate secondary or Orakpo showing Darrelle Revis-like abilities during practice (kidding, of course), but the sixth-year linebacker from Texas excels at one specific aspect in football: using his incredible combination of strength and speed to get after the quarterback. Having him do anything else is a misuse of talent.
Orakpo is a very good pass-rusher, which is particularly valuable in the NFL, but he is also a limited one. Like so many other sack artists currently in the league, Orakpo has a short list of moves in his pass-rushing repertoire, primarily bull rushes and speed rushes with the occasional stutter step. He improved on that in 2013 with a couple of inside moves, although his physical traits suggest he could be so much more as a player if he expanded further beyond the bare essentials. He generally does well in run defense due to his immense strength, although he is prone to over-pursuing and leaving gaping holes for the running back. That is what separates Orakpo now from the league’s top edge players. The talent is certainly there, and more opportunities to rush instead of dropping into coverage could make that gap smaller.
Even with those shortcomings, Orakpo is still a quality second tier pass-rusher, and there is always a market for those in football. He has plenty left in the tank at just 27 years old, if John Abraham’s 11.5 sack season at 35 years old is any indication. Chances are the money would not be better spent elsewhere, considering a pass-rusher is one of the top three most important positions to fill on any roster. The Redskins frankly don’t have a better option; gambling on a late-round rookie or bargain bin free agent won’t cut it for a team that really, really needs to set up Griffin and new head coach Jay Gruden with a quality roster after the lofty promise of the 2012 season.
So what’s the move? Franchise tag Orakpo for a year to make sure his health and productivity weren’t just a fluke? That’s probably not a good idea. It’s only a matter of time before Orakpo breaks out a 16-sack season, with more snaps to get after the quarterback, an improved array of pass-rushing moves and Ryan Kerrigan’s continued growth on the opposite side. If that happens to be in 2014, the Redskins would have to shell out a significantly higher amount to retain him. There would also be less time remaining on the “Griffin’s mega-extension from Dan Snyder” time bomb. Orakpo’s asking price will only get loftier, assuming he stays healthy. Washington might as well pay him now while there is plenty of cap space and less buzz about him in free agency.
The Redskins were a disaster in 2013, and don’t even have a first round draft pick to show for it. However, there is certainly in-house talent they can use to get back on the path they were on in 2012. Even if Orakpo spent most of that season on injured reserve, there is no denying he can be a significant part of any playoff team. The postseason might be a touch ambitious for Washington in 2014, but signing Orakpo to a long-term deal would be a step in the right direction.