COMMENTARY | In an offseason full of questions for the Washington Redskins, perhaps one of the biggest is what to do with outside linebacker Brian Orakpo.
With his rookie contract set to expire, Orakpo will become a free agent this offseason and will be looking for a big-time contract. For a Redskins team with numerous holes on defense, how much are they willing to spend on just one player?
Orakpo statistically had a very good 2013 season, despite the Redskins' struggles. He played in 15 games after a torn pectoral limited him to only two appearances in 2012. His 10 sacks tied him for sixth in the NFL among linebackers. He also had 60 tackles and his first career interception.
For comparison's sake, Tamba Hali had 11 sacks, 46 tackles, four forced fumbles and an interception in 15 games. Orakpo's numbers are very similar to those of one of the NFL's top linebackers. Now he will expect to be paid like one.
Orakpo had a cap hit of just over $5.1 million in 2013 and will cost quite a bit more to keep around in 2014. Chris Wesseling of NFL.com ranks Orakpo as the third best free agent available this offseason meaning teams in need of an outside linebacker will come calling and with big money.
The good news for the Redskins is that they have a head start in terms of negotiating. Orakpo is technically under contract and other teams cannot begin negotiating with him until March 8. The Redskins, however, have already begun talks with Orakpo.
Just don't expect him to take a hometown discount.
At 27, Orakpo is now in his prime. For football players, this is the age when they have to get their big money contracts. As of right now, teams can expect two or three prime years from Orakpo and they will pay for it. After that, players begin to show their age. Not everyone can be London Fletcher.
Orakpo is going to be looking for a long-term deal and big money because he knows in two years or maybe even one, no one will be willing to offer him that big deal anymore.
Ok, but how much is 'big' for linebackers? Again, let's use Hali as a comparison.
Hali is entering the fourth year of his five-year, $57.5 million contract. In 2014, he will carry a cap hit of over $11.4 million, giving him the fourth highest cap hit among outside linebackers in the NFL. You can expect Orakpo will be looking for similar figures.
There are some concerns with Orakpo, however, that may give the Redskins pause.
Orakpo's numbers have virtually plateaued since he entered the league. In 2009, his rookie season, Orakpo had 50 tackles and 11 sacks. That's not far off from the 60 tackles and 10 sacks he had in 2013.
Being consistently good is important, but it also shows that he's not really getting any better either. It seems fair to believe what we saw from him in 2013 is about what we can expect from him next year as well because he's always put up similar numbers.
The problem is that Hali and the other linebackers getting paid top dollar such as Terrell Suggs and Clay Matthews are game-changing caliber players. Offenses have to plan around these linebackers.
When's the last time you felt that way about Orakpo? Two, three years ago? Can anyone really say Orakpo has as much impact on defense as Matthews has in Green Bay?
That's a stretch.
A lot of people would argue that Orakpo is not even the best outside linebacker on the team. They would give that distinction to Ryan Kerrigan whose contract, by the way, will expire at the end of the 2014 season.
Signing Orakpo to a contract similar to any of the other top linebackers would make it really hard for the Redskins to keep Kerrigan. The team cannot afford to invest $24 million in one position.
At least not yet.
The 2015 salary cap is expected to rise after the NFL's new deal with CBS for the broadcast rights to eight Thursday night games. That may make signing both linebackers an easier pill to swallow, but the exact amount the cap may rise is not yet known.
The best option for the Redskins, should Orakpo demand top price for his services, would be to franchise tag him. This would allow the Redskins to keep Orakpo for another year at approximately $11 million and re-evaluate his possible value as well as Kerrigan's.
The Redskins have a lot of cap space this offseason, but they have far too many holes to fill already. Adding an outside linebacker to the mix, especially to a 3-4 defense where linebackers are pivotal, is just not a good idea.
Yes, $11 million is a steep price for a player the team may not feel is worth that amount, but let's look back on the Redskins' illustrious history of bad contracts.
It is a far better proposition for the team to overpay a player for one season than to offer him a long-term deal and regret it later.
JJ Regan is a freelancer for CSN Washington and Baltimore, a contributor for District Sports Page, and is earning his master's in journalism at American University. Follow him on Twitter @TheDC_Sportsguy
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