If the Redskins Use the Franchise Tag, It Has to Be on Brian Orakpo

Brad Gagnon NFL National ColumnistFebruary 14, 2014

Nov 17, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Washington Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo (98) prior to playing the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. The Eagles defeated the Redskins 24-16. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Considering how terrible the Washington Redskins defense was last year, it's scary to consider how many veterans the team could lose this offseason. Brian Orakpo, DeAngelo Hall, Perry Riley, London Fletcher, Rob Jackson and Josh Wilson are all slated to become unrestricted free agents in less than a month. 

Now, Jackson is a backup and Fletcher is retiring. Wilson has been a bust the last couple years, and Hall and Riley are good but not stars. But Orakpo stands out from the crowd. He's the team's best pass-rusher and maybe its best defensive player period. 

That's why, in the worst-case scenario, the 'Skins should be prepared to use the franchise tag in order to prevent the 27-year-old from hitting the open market. The window in which they can use said tag opens Monday and closes March 3.

Negotiations have already gotten underway, according to general manager Bruce Allen, per Zac Boyer of the Washington Times. But if a deal can't be reached with Orakpo by the time that deadline has arrived, the tag has to be used in order to buy both sides more time. 

If things fall apart from that point forward, at least the team bought itself another year with its top pass-rusher. The estimated $11 million price tag isn't ideal, but consider that, according to Spotrac, the 'Skins have nearly $25 million in cap space, which is the eighth-highest total in the NFL

Teams with the most cap space
TeamSpace ($)
1. Oakland Raiders63,077,264
2. Cleveland Browns56,911,393
3. Jacksonville Jaguars47,739,780
4. Indianapolis Colts33,570,463
5. Miami Dolphins32,620,075
6. Minnesota Vikings28,983,670
7. Green Bay Packers28,107,337
8. Washington Redskins24,963,979
9. Cincinnati Bengals22,760,954
10. New York Jets22,172,475

They'd rather get Orakpo signed to a long-term deal that is friendlier in 2014, but if the difference between that and the franchise tender is $5 or $6 million out of a $25 million bucket, this isn't a debate. 

The same logic could apply to Hall or Riley if indeed Orakpo's deal gets done first and there's a chance to use the tag elsewhere. But linebackers are tagged at the same price all around, and $11 million is far too much to commit to Riley, who struggled with a minus-12.4 grade from Pro Football Focus (subscription required) in what was supposed to be a big year. 

The cornerback price tag is expected to be just as high, if not higher, and while Hall is one hell of a playmaker, he's not consistent or reliable enough to merit that. 

There were questions about Orakpo and his health coming off a lost 2012 campaign, but then he went out in 2013 and posted 10 sacks while earning his third Pro Bowl berth despite playing on a bad defense. This team simply can't afford to let him get away, which is why he should be viewed as its first and only franchise tag option.