Not able to get a long-term deal ironed out before the tag window closed, the Washington Redskins had no real choice but to slap the franchise tag on Brian Orakpo Monday. And the team has confirmed as much, via Brian Tinsman of Redskins.com.
I know, $11.5 million is a lot to essentially promise to anybody, let alone a guy who makes his money rushing the passer who hasn't had more than 10 sacks since his rookie season in 2009. But Orakpo is by the far the best player on a bad defense that simply can't afford to get worse.
The 'Skins, who Spotrac projects will have about $28 million in salary-cap space entering the new league year, can afford the tag in the worst-case scenario. But keep in mind that this simply extends the exclusive negotiation window between the two parties. Now, Orakpo knows he isn't going anywhere else, and he, his agent and the Redskins organization don't have to rush in order to work something out that pleases everybody.
I'll admit it's extremely tough to pinpoint what Orakpo is worth. He looks as though he can become a perennial Pro Bowler and he's only 27 years old. Pro Football Focus (subscription required) graded him as the fourth-best 3-4 outside linebacker in the game last year, and only six players had more sacks than him during the second half of the 2013 season, despite the fact that he missed the finale.
|Most Sacks, Second Half of 2013|
|1. Greg Hardy||Panthers||10|
|2. Justin Tuck||Giants||9.5|
|3. Robert Quinn||Rams||9|
|4. John Abraham||Cardinals||8.5|
|5. Trent Cole||Eagles||8|
|5. Robert Mathis||Colts||8|
|7. Brian Orakpo||Redskins||7|
|7. Jared Allen||Vikings||7|
|7. Jerry Hughes||Bills||7|
|Pro Football Reference|
But he has suffered a pair of pectoral tears and, again, has never had more than 11 sacks in a season. Maybe that'll change if and when he receives more support within that dreadful defense—which has given up the third-highest passing-yardage total in football the last two years—but that reality might prevent Orakpo from being a $10 million-a-season pass-rusher right now.
Even if we hold the injury history and the lack of game-changing ability on his resume against Orakpo, he's gotta be worth more than $5 million per year. Despite being two years older than Orakpo is now, that's what Elvis Dumervil got from the Baltimore Ravens after putting up 11 sacks with the Denver Broncos in 2012. Connor Barwin, Jason Babin and Mathias Kiwanuka all make about $6 million a year.
And don't forget that he's a lot more than just an edge-rusher. As we detailed here, Orakpo is one of the league's best rush-oriented outside linebackers in coverage, and he rarely misses tackles. He's a complete player and the sky remains the limit.
If you have your doubts, consider what else the Redskins would do with that cash, and I'm sure you'll still possess plenty of doubt.
"Sure, the Redskins could sign a few players for the $11.455 million they'd have to (Orakpo) this season," wrote ESPN's John Keim. "But that assumes all are productive. That's far from a guarantee, which anyone who has followed the Redskins since free agency began should know."
So, it's absolutely worth it for the Redskins to spend an extra $6 million toward this year's cap in order to a) buy more time to negotiate with Orakpo and b) find out if indeed he can become a franchise-leading defender in 2014.