- John Keim, ESPN Staff Writer
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They say they want him back, but at what price? The Redskins have so many needs that giving free-agent linebacker Brian Orakpo a whopper deal could complicate their ability to adequately fill other holes – even with a lot of cap room. That’s why it’s not a lock that he’ll return, especially if his price tag climbs into the $10 million-a-year range. His lack of game-changing plays complicates this decision.
There are only a handful of linebackers in that range. Does Orakpo deserve to be among them? I took a look at five linebackers who earned big deals.
Robert Mathis is on this list, though he spent the bulk of his career at defensive end in a 4-3 until moving to outside linebacker in a 3-4 in 2012. He signed his new contract with the Colts knowing he’d be shifting to a 3-4. I also included DeMarcus Ware, now a defensive end, because his money was earned as a 3-4 linebacker. Only 3-4 outside linebackers were included on this list.
After seeing these breakdowns, what would you pay Orakpo?
Green Bay’s Clay Matthews
Contract: 5 years, $66 million (2013)
Signing bonus: $20.5 million
Guaranteed money: $20.5 million
Average per year: $13.2 million
Analysis: Matthews earned NFC Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2010 with 13.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception. He’s made four Pro Bowls and was twice named All-Pro. Matthews had recorded double-digit sack totals in three of the previous four seasons before his new contract. Matthews has missed a combined nine games the past two seasons. He was considered very good against the run this past season.
Game-changing plays: He has 50 career sacks to go with 10 forced fumbles and four interceptions in five seasons.
Worth it: Yes. There’s only one year to go on in the new deal, so it’s tough to say he isn’t. But injuries the past two years make this a shakier yes than anticipated.
Orakpo comparison: Matthews clearly is the better player, a more dynamic force who causes more worries for an offense.
Dallas’ DeMarcus Ware
Contract: 7 years, $78 million (2009)
Signing bonus: $20 million
Average per year: $13 million
Guaranteed money: $25,591,176
Analysis: He earned this deal in a big way with 53.5 sacks in his first four years, including 20 in 2008. He’s made seven Pro Bowls and was named first-team All-Pro four times and was the 2008 NFL Defensive Player of the Year. He never missed a game until this past season, his first as a 4-3 defensive end.
Game-changing plays: He’s intercepted only two passes in his career (one this past season), but has forced 32 fumbles. He’s recorded 117 career sacks he had a combined 35 sacks in 2009-10.
Worth it: Yes, though the Cowboys might now have to cut him to clear salary-cap space.
Orakpo comparison: There’s no comparison. Ware was a more dynamic player during his prime. If healthy, he can still play.
Kansas City’s Tamba Hali
Contract: 5 years, $57.5 million (2011)
Signing bonus: $15 million
Guaranteed money: $35 million
Average per year: $11.5 million
Analysis: Hali earned his deal with a big 2010 season with an AFC-best 14.5 sacks – his first year with double-digit sacks. He’s a four-time Pro Bowler and has made All-Pro twice, including this past season. He’s played in at least 15 games every season since entering the NFL in 2006.
Game-changing plays: Hali has forced 27 fumbles in eight seasons, but intercepted only two passes. He has 46.5 sacks since signing his new deal and 73.5 for his career.
Worth it: Yes. His production has improved and, with two more years left on his contract, he shows no signs of decline.
Orakpo comparison: Hali makes more game-changing plays, though his contract is a direct result of 2010 (he was a 4-3 end until 2009). He also has more talent around him. Orakpo has not had a breakout year, rather he’s consistently been between 8.5-11 sacks in his four full seasons.
Pittsburgh’s LaMarr Woodley
Contract: 6 years, $61.5 million (2011)
Signing bonus: $13.5 million
Guaranteed money: $17 million
Average per year: $10.25 million
Analysis: Woodley earned his contract after recording a combined 35 sacks over three straight seasons. But since then, he’s recorded a combined 18 sacks and missed a total of 14 games because of various injuries. Sacks don’t measure everything, but there’s been a drop-off in pressure and he got the big deal because of his sack total.
Game-changing plays: Since signing his deal, Woodley has intercepted two passes, forced two fumbles and recovered two others.
Worth it: No. Whether because of injuries or other reasons, his play has slipped.
Orakpo comparison: At this point, Orakpo is better. But Woodley posted better numbers – and more game-changing plays -- in getting this contract (albeit while surrounded by much better defensive talent). Orakpo has forced six fumbles and intercepted one pass.
Indianapolis’ Robert Mathis
Contract: 4 years, $36 million (2012)
Signing bonus: $15 million
Average per year: $9 million
Guaranteed money: $17 million
Analysis: Mathis flourished this past season with a career-best 19.5 sacks – eight more than his previous best. Mathis has 111 career sacks, playing opposite Dwight Freeney as a 4-3 defensive end for most of that time. Mathis drops into coverage probably less than 10 percent of the time and rushes with his hand on the ground quite a bit. Two years ago, Mathis recorded eight sacks in 12 games.
Game-changing plays: He forced eight fumbles this past season and 48 for his career to go with one interception.
Worth it: Yes.
Orakpo comparison: Mathis signed his deal before playing in a 3-4, though the Colts already knew they were going to switch to that front. If Mathis, who turns 33 Wednesday, were up for a new contract this season? He’d top $10 million per year. He’s a more dangerous pass-rusher than Orakpo, who has six forced fumbles in his career. But Orakpo is asked to do more.