Sunday, March 2, 2014

Stay or Go? Brian Orakpo

(Will Brian Orakpo be at the Redskins 2014 Training Camp? Photo: FedEx Al)
The Washington Post and other outlets are reporting that the Redskins front office are having a difficult time determining whether to keep 3-4 OLB Brian Orakpo. This is because the most likely way for the team to keep the former 2009 1st round draft pick is to franchise him with hopes of either working out a long term deal or negotiating with another team to trade away his rights (which doesn't seem likely).

The problem is simple, it's the final solution that is difficult. Do you spend around $10 million a year for a player that is talented but may not be as good as you'd expect for a top tier pass rusher? In the next few years, the Redskins will have to deal with contracts of some of their more valuable assets including Trent Williams, Ryan Kerrigan, Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris and there is concern that the team may have to lose at least one of those players. So do the Redskins risk the loss of one of those players or Orakpo?

(Photo: Evan Vucci/AP)
The Redskins have around 27-28 million (I have them at 28.2 million thanks to some details on Chris Baker's contract and  's cap calculator) in cap room at this point. While it seems like a no brainer to tag 'Rak with so much cap space, the team would like to sign at least a few free agents to bolster the roster including at least one safety, OL, DL, a ILB (at this point the Redskins need two since Perry Riley is about to become a free agent) and possibly a WR and a CB.

So it's a hard decision to drop around 11 plus million on one player based on the team needs alone. However by 4PM EST on Monday the 3rd, the Redskins will have to make a decision based on one of the following options: franchise him, let him test free agency or have a long term deal in place.

Today, we're going to take a look at Orakpo's career and look at the positives and negatives and try to determine if 'Rak is one of the better OLB/DEs in the league and a quick determination of what he's worth (compared to the rest of the NFL) and whether the Redskins should keep him or let him walk.

Experts, analysts and fans around the league have Orakpo valued very highly as one of the top free agents but in the DC area fans are skeptical of these assertions because 'Rak has missed significant time from injuries and not lived up to the fan expectations as a elite pass rusher compared to fellow 2009 draftee Clay Matthews.

 Orakpo Career Stats
Coach/D. Coordinator: Jim Zorn/Greg Blache
Drafted: 1st round #13 overall
Position: 4-3 OLB (Converted from a 4-3 DE)
Games started/played: 16/16
Tackles/ Tackles For Loss/Sacks/QB Hits: 50/14/11.0/14
PD/FF/INT: 2/1/0
Sacks vs. NFCE: 0
Best Performance: vs. Raiders (6 tackles, 4.0 sacks, 1 FF)

Coach/D. Coordinator: Mike Shanahan/ Jim Haslett
Position: 3-4 OLB (Converted from a 4-3 OLB)
Games started/played: 15/15
Tackles/Tackles For Loss/Sacks/QB Hits: 56/9/8.5/17
PD/FF/INT: 2/1/0
Sacks vs. NFCE: 0.5 (vs. Eagles)
Best Performance: Multiple 2 sack games vs. Bears and Packers

Coach/D. Coordinator: Mike Shanahan/ Jim Haslett
Position: 3-4 OLB
Games started/played: 16/16 
Tackles/Tackles For Loss/Sacks/QB Hits: 59/6/9.0/12
PD/FF/INT: 5/3/0
Sacks vs. NFCE: 3.0 (2.0 vs. Eagles, 1.0 vs Giants)
Best Performance: vs. Cardinals (1 tackle, 1 PD, 1.0 sack, 1 FF)

Coach/D. Coordinator: Mike Shanahan/ Jim Haslett
Position: 3-4 OLB
Games started/played: 2/2 (torn pectoral)
Tackles/Tackles For Loss/Sacks/QB Hits: 5/?/1.0/?
PD/FF/INT: 3/1/0
Sacks vs. NFCE: 0
Best Performance: vs. Rams (3 tackles, 1.0 sack, 1 FF)

Coach/D. Coordinator: Mike Shanahan/ Jim Haslett
Position: 3-4 OLB
Games started/played: 15/15
Tackles/Tackles For Loss/Sacks/QB Hits: 60/16/10.0/18
PD/FF/INT: 4/0/1
Sacks vs. NFCE: 3.5 (2.0 vs. Giants, 1.5 vs. Eagles)
Best Performance: vs. Giants (2.0 sacks, 6 tackles)

Arguments For Keeping Orakpo
(Photo: Reuters)
- 'Rak has been a Redskin his entire career. The Redskins have a habit of letting their drafted and groomed talent leave and then overpay a free agent to take his spot. While the Redskins won't be getting Orakpo on the cheap, wouldn't it be better to keep a fan favorite than bring in another guy to learn a new system for not that much less?

- Orakpo will enter the 2014 season at 28 yrs. old. During most of his career he's either had to transition from one position to the next or recover from an injury. Entering his 2nd contract, Orakpo should be fully comfortable as a 3-4 OLB and should be 100% healthy.

- It's clear that looking at Brian Orakpo in 2013 compared to previous seasons that he's radically improved in pass coverage, run defense and outside containment. His pass rushing skill improved in the final half of the season yielding almost a sack a game.

- Jim Haslett loves his main pass rusher and has said that he wants to unleash him more in 2014. Haslett has stated in the past that Mike Shanahan used 'Rak more in coverage. Now that Haslett has full control, he wants Orakpo to be more of a pass rusher. This could lead to a higher sack number and could help the Redskins generate more turnovers with QB hits and hurries.

- The Redskins have huge needs on the defense. Allowing Orakpo to test the market could take away one of their better players on defense and leaves another gaping hole for the Redskins to fill. Right now, Brandon Jenkins would replace Orakpo and he is unproven.

- Orakpo fits the type of player that the Redskins have wanted over the years. No problems, no drama. Maybe not the most vocal leader on the team but is highly respected in the locker room and has a high work ethic.

Arguments Against Keeping Orakpo
(Photo: Washington Post)

- Cost. Franchising Orakpo will cost the Redskins approximately 11.4 million in cap room. That's about 9% of the team's total cap. Of course a long term deal would better suit the team but that offers questions as well.

- Not great against the NFCE. In 5 seasons, Orakpo has only 7 sacks against the NFCE. This includes zero sacks against the Dallas Cowboys.

- Contract Year? Orakpo had a good season despite the team having a 3-13 2013. But is this Orakpo getting to the next level or is this the performance needed to get that big second contract that many players tend to have.

- Elite pass rusher? Orakpo has only hit double digit sacks in two of his five seasons. Could they get the same performance from say a Rob Jackson or another player and not have to spend nearly as much?

Final Thoughts

An average of 10.5 million a year based on some of the bigger contracts of OLBs wouldn't be out of the realm of normal spending for a player like Brian Orakpo. I think that both the views of local media/Redskin fans and those of the national experts are skewed and really the thoughts on Orakpo should be more middle of the road.

That said, pass rushers are the 2nd most valued position in the NFL behind quarterback and that means spending money to keep or acquire pass rushing talent. While it wouldn't bother me to say goodbye to Orakpo, I think the most prudent move by the Redskins is to bite the bullet and franchise him. The team currently has too many holes to fill and can't depend on having a Rob Jackson (also a free agent) or Brandon Jenkins take over and hope that it will fix the problem of letting him go.

I'm also curious to see Haslett unleash Orakpo this year.

Meanwhile, the Redskins can try to work on a long term deal and/or see if another team wants to overpay 'Rak and make a trade (maybe negotiate for a 1st and a 4th, down from 2 1st round picks).

Either way, the Redskins can start focusing on free agents and getting Perry Riley under contract with still around 17 million to play with and not have to worry about pass rush in 2014.

Stats from and

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