Washington Redskins Are Wise to Place Franchise Tag on Brian Orakpo

Bryan Manning@bdmanning4Featured ColumnistMarch 3, 2014

Brian Orakpo chasing down Eli Manning.
Brian Orakpo chasing down Eli Manning.Associated Press

The Washington Redskins announced on Monday that the team has placed the franchise tag on outside linebacker Brian Orakpo.

ESPN's Ed Werder reported on Monday morning that the team would likely place the tag on Orakpo, allowing the Redskins to continue negotiating with the five-year veteran in hopes of reaching a long-term agreement.

According to NFL.com, the move guarantees that Orakpo will receive $11.455 million in 2014 if he signs the one-year franchise tender. The Redskins and Orakpo have until July 15 to come to terms on a long-term deal or he will play the season under the one-year franchise tender.

Yes, over $11 million is expensive for a player who lacks a number of game-changing plays, but the Redskins simply could not let Orakpo get away.

In five years with the Redskins, Orakpo has 39.5 career sacks. He's battled some injuries, though. In 2012, Orakpo missed most of the season with a torn pectoral muscle. It was similar to the injury he suffered in the last game of the 2011 season, when he did not miss any games.

He missed the final game of the 2013 season with a groin injury.

The biggest question facing the Redskins was, if they let Orakpo test the free-agent market and possibly risk losing him, who would they replace him with?

As much as Rob Jackson helped the Redskins in 2012, he is not the long-term answer at outside linebacker for Washington. He is nowhere near the caliber of player that Orakpo is. Jackson, too, is a free agent.

The Redskins have a lot of holes, but why create another one and possibly use the money allocated to Orakpo to sign multiple starters that aren't guaranteed to succeed?

Even if Orakpo plays under the costly franchise tender in 2014, the Redskins will still have plenty of room to sign multiple starters. 

According to Spotrac.com, Washington has approximately $28 million in salary-cap room before figuring in Orakpo's number under the franchise tag. This figure includes the recent deals for DeAngelo Hall and Chris Baker.

The Redskins can create around $7 million more with the release or restructuring of Adam Carriker (didn't play in 2013), Stephen Bowen (microfracture surgery) and Chris Chester. All three players combine to count for just under $18 million against the cap in 2014.

They won't be back, at least at those figures.

Chester was solid in 2012, but was arguably the weakest link to a struggling offensive line in 2013. Pro Football Focus (subscription required) had Chester ranked No. 49 among offensive guards in all of the NFL

According to Mike Jones and Mark Maske of the Washington Postmany within Redskins Park were divided on Orakpo's worth.

Jones and Maske noted that while the Redskins love Orakpo as a player, some believe the franchise tag was too much to allocate to a player like Orakpo:

According to several people familiar with the situation, the Redskins like Orakpo as a player and ideally would prefer to keep him. But there have been differing views within the organization, according to those sources, about the wisdom of either using the franchise player tag or pursing an expensive long-term contract with Orakpo when that money and salary cap space instead could be used to address other needs.

While franchising Orakpo may be a risky move, again, who are they going to replace him with?

The Redskins, at least in past years before Bruce Allen joined the team's front office in late 2009, always treasured other teams' free agents more than their own. Orakpo was Washington's first-round pick in 2009. 

Therefore, logically, it would make sense to keep Orakpo, right?

Orakpo is a homegrown player, whom the coaches obviously value and he's your top pass-rusher. Keeping him should not be up for debate.

There are arguments against keeping Orakpo, however. 

Without Orakpo in 2012, the Redskins won seven straight games—with Jackson manning Orakpo's right outside linebacker spot—and won the division. In 2013, Washington was 3-13 with Orakpo.

Then there is the debate about whether or not Orakpo is an elite rusher. He isn't. His career high in sacks is 11, set in his rookie year. He is a solid pass-rusher who pairs with fellow outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan to form a very good duo of outside rushers.

Orakpo's first career interception didn't occur until this past season and he has forced only six fumbles in five years.

Kerrigan, on the other hand, makes more game-changing plays. In three years, Kerrigan has forced 10 fumbles and has two interceptions, both of which he returned for touchdowns.

Nevertheless, Orakpo is the better overall player. PFF rated Orakpo as the fourth-best 3-4 outside linebacker in 2013. He is very good against the run, much improved in coverage and a very good pass-rusher.

Why would you want to lose that?

Yes, you may have to overpay a bit to keep him, but wouldn't you rather overpay one of your own instead of giving a lot of money to someone who's never been in your defensive system?

The coaches and front office know Orakpo. They know his work ethic, strengths, weaknesses and character. And they want him back. Effort is, and never will be, a problem with Orakpo.

As noted by John Keim of ESPN.com, several media outlets had Orakpo as one of the premier free agents in this year's class. There was no doubt that if Orakpo was free to test the market, he would draw a lot of attention. At 27 years old, Orakpo is in his prime.

The Redskins chose not to risk losing Orakpo and it was a wise move. If Washington had chosen to let Orakpo test the market, he likely would have been playing elsewhere in 2014.

And the Redskins would have struggled to replace him.

Orakpo is the Redskins' best defensive player and the team should focus on upgrading the talent around him. Orakpo told ESPN's Josina Anderson (h/t Pro Football Talk) on Monday that he is okay with the franchise tag, but reiterated that his goal is still a long-term deal with the Redskins:

I'm excited to continue to play football. I'm glad we've made the first step, but hopefully we can still get things done in the long run.I don't have a problem with the decision made, but I still want a long-term deal. This is new to me. I'm just letting this play out to the end.

I'm excited to be with the Redskins as of right now, but now we will go from here. It's always good to try and finish up with the team that drafted you. However, it is a business and I understand the business. If it works out then it works out. At the very least I'm happy they took this step forward.

The Redskins will still have plenty of money to spend. On Monday, they took care of their biggest need: keeping Orakpo in Washington for the 2014 season—and hopefully beyond.


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