Underwhelming Season in 2014 Won't Damage Brian Orakpo's Value in Free Agency

Christopher Hansen@ChrisHansenNFLNFL AnalystMarch 5, 2015

LANDOVER, MD - AUGUST 07: Outside linebacker Brian Orakpo #98 of the Washington Redskins celebrates after sacking quarterback Ryan Mallett #15 of the New England Patriots (not pictured) in the first quarter during a preseason NFL game at FedExField on August 7, 2014 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Patrick Smith/Getty Images

A player going into a contract year or playing on a franchise tag is supposed to prove he deserves a lucrative long-term deal. If he is motivated, talented and healthy enough, he usually does. When he doesn't, dollars typically turn to dust.

Outside linebacker Brian Orakpo hits free agency next week after an underwhelming 2014 season as Washington’s franchise player. In seven games, Orakpo registered half of a single sack before tearing his pectoral muscle.

Normally, injury and production concerns in a contract year would kill his value, but Orakpo’s market value should be relatively unaffected by it. The rarity of pass-rushers leads to them getting lucrative contracts even with obvious red flags, especially since Orakpo doesn't turn 29 until July.

It's rare for top pass-rushers to hit the market before their 30th birthdays, and Orakpo still qualifies on both fronts. He might not be among the league's best, but he can come in and help a defense that desperately needs a pass-rusher.

 

A Top Pass-Rusher?

A down year in 2014 is certainly worth examining. It's important to consider that sacks are not everything and scheme matters. Washington fired defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, for example.

Free Agent Pass-Rushers
PlayersFree Agent2014 SacksSacks/Games Since 20092015 Age
Tamba HaliMaybe6.0.7132
LaMarr WoodleyYes0.6331
Brian OrakpoMarch 100.5.6229
Trent ColeYes6.5.5833
Jason Pierre-PaulFranchise Tag12.5.5026
Pro-Football-Reference.com

Despite having a down year, Orakpo will still be the best pass-rusher on the market. Of the 19 players with more sacks per game than Orakpo since 2009 (minimum 50 games), only LaMarr Woodley is or will be a free agent.

Woodley will be 31 in November and had no sacks in six games with the Oakland Raiders in 2014. He’s been in steady decline. Orakpo's performance seems a bit flukier, but, like Woodley, he's missed a lot of time due to injury. 

Tamba Hali could become available, but he's 32. Jason Pierre-Paul is just behind Orakpo, but the New York Giants gave him the franchise tag. He’s a little younger, but he has had similarly fluky seasons.

28 or Younger with 40+ Sacks (Active Players)
PlayerGamesSacks
J.J. Watt6457
Von Miller5649
Justin Houston5948.5
Robert Quinn6345
Aldon Smith5044
Brian Orakpo7140
Pro-Football-Reference.com

Only seven other players in the league have recorded more than 40 sacks in 71 or fewer games like Orakpo. Age is an important factor because NFL teams are paying for future performance. 

Orakpo's sack total is deceptively low, but that doesn't mean he isn't making an impact. In 2013, seven of his 10 sacks were from Week 9 onward. It’s not uncommon to see sacks come in bunches, which was certainly the case with him.

 

A Well-Rounded Player

One of the other things about Orakpo is that he doesn’t go after the quarterback at the expense of the run. In 2013, Pro Football Focus graded Orakpo as the fourth-best 3-4 outside linebacker overall and against the run.

Well-Rounded Pro Football Focus Grades
SplitRushCoverageRunPenalty
Orakpo 20140.5-0.63.91.4
Orakpo 201310.93.57.32.0
Pro Football Focus

In 2014, Orakpo was similarly effective against the run. In fact, his run-stop percentage was 7.9, compared to 6.7 in 2013. There's evidence that Orakpo is doing exactly what he should be doing depending on the game situation.

For example, Orakpo's half-sack came in a 41-10 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. Five of the other six games were losses, including a couple of blowouts. The other win was the game Orakpo got hurt in, so it's hard to fault him for not getting to the quarterback with regularity.

This is what teams want in a player. He does what's necessary and not what's good for his own stats. Orakpo could easily be selfish and chase stats, but he isn't that type of player.

 

League Interest

Given his ability, it's no wonder he's already getting interest around the league. For every two teams we know are interested at this time of year, there are probably a few more we don't know about.

At least four teams are already interested in Orakpo, according to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk. The Atlanta Falcons and the Jacksonville Jaguars are the only ones that have been reported, but we know there are more.

It's also telling that, despite his down year, Washington would like to have Orakpo back if the price is right. Even with a strong crop of pass-rushers in the draft and a high draft pick, new general manager Scot McCloughan is willing to keep Orakpo.

Given the close ties between the Jaguars, the Falcons, Washington and the Seahawks, it wouldn't be surprising if people saw Orakpo a bit like they did pass-rushers Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril in 2013— undervalued pass-rushers who just need the right schemes to unlock their potential. You can never have enough pass-rushers, so Orakpo is going to get a lot of calls.

Despite his injury history, Orakpo should see a strong market for his services. Strong markets usually result in sizable contracts. When Orakpo finally does sign, his underwhelming season will be a distant memory.