The fate of the majority of Washington Redskins players who are facing unrestricted free agency this offseason seems to be sealed one way or the other. However, one of the biggest tossups is the future of outside linebacker Brian Orakpo.
Emerging from his five-year rookie contract, the former Texas Longhorn figures to be quite expensive, but the following five reasons justify why general manager Bruce Allen and the Redskins' front office can't afford to be cheap in this situation.
1. Body of Work
Upon the completion of the 2013 NFL season, Orakpo was one of five Redskins to be elected to the NFL Pro Bowl and just one of two defensive players on the team to earn the distinction.
This marks his third Pro Bowl appearance in just five years. In reality, it's his third in just four years, since the torn pectoral he suffered on the onset of the 2012 NFL season effectively erased his fourth NFL season.
Since his arrival in Washington in 2009, the former first-round pick has recorded 39.5 sacks—the sixth most among active linebackers during that span of time. He even edged out marquee pass-rushing names like James Harrison and Calvin Pace—two players who have been in good health for the most part since 2009.
With the probable departures of Santana Moss, Rex Grossman, Fred Davis and perhaps Reed Doughty, Orakpo will stand as one of the most-tenured members of the team.
Assuming DeAngelo Hall is re-signed, only four players will remain from the Redskins' 2009 opening-day roster. The two would join center Will Montgomery and linebacker Rob Jackson as the most senior members of the team.
For a bad team, rebuilding doesn't start with a complete breakdown. There must be some viable pieces that remain to teach new and perhaps young players the ropes. Orakpo and Hall are two standout players who led the NFL's 15th-ranked defense to every bit of mild success it experienced in 2013.
3. Strength of Character
When Orakpo faced a devastating pectoral injury that sidelined him for the entire 2012 season, many fans were skeptical about his level of performance once he returned.
But through the hard work and determination that followed the 2012 NFL season, he was able to return for the Redskins' 2013 opener against the Philadelphia Eagles, and he recorded three tackles in that game.
Playing in 15 games in 2013, he experienced arguably his best NFL season. He recorded career highs in total tackles and combined tackles, as well as 10 sacks and his first career interception.
4. Added Value
Orakpo's presence throws a wrench in any offensive line's game plan. Since he is a pass-rusher who must always be accounted for, opportunities present themselves for interior rushers and opposite edge-rushers who are given less attention than him.
In 2012, the season that he missed, the Redskins recorded 32 sacks as a team. In 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2013, Washington posted 40, 29, 41 and 36 sacks, respectively. Those numbers represent significantly increased team efficiency in rushing the passer in three out of four seasons with Orakpo present.
In 2011 and 2013, playing opposite of Orakpo, outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan recorded 60 or more combined tackles and four fumbles versus just 54 combined tackles and two forced fumbles in 2012.
5. Sticking with the 3-4
Newly appointed head coach Jay Gruden stated in his first press conference that his intention was to maintain the defense's 3-4 approach, a notion furthered by the probable retention of Jim Haslett as defensive coordinator.
With this reality, Orakpo can continue to thrive in his accustomed role. There's no reason that he can't maintain the level of success he's experienced in his first five seasons playing in virtually the same system.
With the all-but-guaranteed supplement of quality personnel on the defensive line via the draft and free agency, Orakpo will have the tools to perform better than ever—leading an improving defensive pass rush that recorded 36 sacks in 2013.
Unless otherwise mentioned, all stats were gathered via Pro-Football-Reference.com.
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