Part of the reason the Washington Redskins defense wasn't able to perform at a high level in 2012 was that its most talented player was forced to miss all but two games due to injury.
With Brian Orakpo in 2011, the 'Skins ranked seventh in the NFL with a sack percentage of 7.5. Without him for virtually all of 2012, they ranked fifth-last in the league at 4.8 percent. And so naturally, you'd assume that the team would be antsy to ensure that Orakpo—whose rookie contract expires after the 2013 season—won't be going anywhere for a long time.
The problem, of course, is that Orakpo wasn't on the field much in 2012. And his injury wasn't an isolated incident. The 26-year-old has now injured the same pectoral muscle twice in the last three regular-season football games he's played in. Orakpo also aggravated the same injury during the preseason last year.
He says he's fully healthy now, and that "the pec is feeling great," but exactly one year ago, he was singing the exact same tune:
"The issue is that it is difficult to establish a fair market value for Brian Orakpo," wrote CSN Washington's Rich Tandler on Tuesday. "The difference between his potential upside and down side is substantial."
Yes, the No. 13 overall pick from the 2009 draft could get back on track in 2013, register double-digit sacks and earn a contract in Clay Matthews' range. Matthew signed a six-year, $69.73 million deal with the Packers last month, and he's considered to be in the upper echelon among players at that position.
When should the Redskins extend Brian Orakpo's contract?
But there's also a chance Orakpo aggravates the injury or suffers another one, in which case the Redskins would save some cash or decide to walk away and roll the dice with Ryan Kerrigan and Rob Jackson in 2014.
Tandler's got the right idea. The Redskins are slated to have plenty of cap space next offseason, so there's no reason to rush here. If they have to use the franchise tag, so be it. The point is that they have flexibility now that those league-imposed sanctions are a thing of the past.
Waiting will cost the Redskins money in the short term, because they'll be unable to reduce Orakpo's 2013 cap number, and it could even cost them money in the long term. But we're talking about such a crucial investment that taking some time to assess Orakpo's durability is the most prudent thing to do.