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Tuesday, February 25, 2014
How Brian Orakpo compares at OLB

By John Keim

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.

Orakpo
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?

Matthews
Green Bay’s Clay Matthews
Age: 27
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.

Ware
Dallas’ DeMarcus Ware
Age: 31
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.

Hali
Kansas City’s Tamba Hali
Age: 30
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.

Woodley
Woodley
Pittsburgh’s LaMarr Woodley
Age: 29
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.

Mathis
Indianapolis’ Robert Mathis
Age: 32
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.