Brian Orakpo will get paid this offseason. If Paul Kruger averaged $8 million a year in a deal with Cleveland last offseason, then Orakpo, who is considered the top outside linebacker available, should eclipse that mark.
The question is, will it be the Redskins who give that money to him? Their coaches talk as though Orakpo will be back, and defensive coordinator Jim Haslett has called him a top priority. They want to re-sign him, knowing that it will be costly. But life in a 3-4 defensive scheme demands having two linebackers who can rush the passer, and that means spending money at this position.
If the Redskins don’t think they can agree on a long-term deal, then, yes, the franchise tag, which can be used starting Monday, is a strong option. Here are the different types of franchise tags they could use.
The Redskins have used the tag only three previous times since it came to fruition in 1993. Only once has a player they used the tag on actually played for them the following season.
They tagged defensive lineman Sean Gilbert in 1997, causing him to sit out the entire season. They tagged him again in 1998 and that offseason swiped two first-round picks from Carolina in exchange for him. They also used it on corner Champ Bailey in 2004 before trading him to Denver. And they used it on tight end Fred Davis in 2012.
If the Redskins decide to tag Orakpo, it would cost them approximately $10.5 million in cap space this year. The benefit is that they could get another year of his services, possibly to see whether his strong finish leads into a bigger season. Of course, if that happens, his price tag would increase in 2015. Still, keep in mind that other players will need to be addressed in the next few years: left tackle Trent Williams, quarterback Robert Griffin III, running back Alfred Morris, receiver Pierre Garcon and linebacker Ryan Kerrigan.
The coaches like Orakpo and consider him a good all-around linebacker, and he has been their best pass-rusher -- and in the second half of 2013, he was their best defensive player. Haslett said that the Redskins did not let the outside linebackers -- Orakpo and Kerrigan -- rush with abandon on enough occasions and that they want to turn them loose more this season.
The problem for Orakpo is that he has just one career interception and six forced fumbles in 64 career games. That’s not a lot of game-changing plays. To pay someone more than $10 million per year, you’d like more of those plays. By comparison, in 69 career games, Green Bay’s Clay Matthews has 50 sacks, four interceptions and 10 forced fumbles. His contract will average around $13 million over the next five years if he plays to the end of his deal.
So paying Orakpo somewhere between Kruger and Matthews would be acceptable. Considering the Redskins could have approximately $30 million in cap space, they likely won’t let Orakpo get away unless they have a good alternative. Losing him would weaken an important spot in a 3-4 defense. They might not have to use the franchise tag, but it’s a legitimate tool to keep him around.