Important Contract Decisions for the Redskins: Brian Orakpo

Posted on July 25, 2014 by Bryan Frantz

Everybody knew this one was coming.

The most talked about contract situation in the last few months for the Redskins, Brian Orakpo is very much at a crossroads in Washington. New head coach Jay Gruden declared in late March that the pass-rushing outside linebacker might have to play out the season and earn himself the long-term contract he wants. Orakpo thinks he's already earned it.

Brian Orakpo

Photo Credit: Reuters

Generally a new coaching staff wants to fill the roster with its own players, as Mike Shanahan showed with massive roster turnover during his tenure, but this might not be an issue as the team elected to retain defensive coordinator Jim Haslett and Gruden comes from an offensive background. Haslett has, however, declared that Orakpo, Ryan Kerrigan and the other outside linebackers would be given more freedom to get after the quarterback this season, so Rak could see a contract-padding spike in numbers in his "prove it" year. 

As a pass-rusher with 39.5 sacks in 64 career games who is just entering his prime (turns 28 on July 31), it's reasonable for him to expect a massive contract like the ones recently given to Clay Matthews and Paul Kruger, or even something smaller but fully guaranteed like what the Broncos gave Von Miller. However, he's also sustained numerous serious injuries and has yet to have a truly dominant season. He's consistently been very good, and the Redskins acknowledge that, but Orakpo contends that he is an elite pass-rusher and therefore wants to be paid like one.

Top pass-rushers in the NFL today can expect a long-term contract of 4-5 years and somewhere in the $40-70 million range. If Rak put up 10-12 sacks this year, which would be just slightly more than his career average and a reasonable bump, he would probably command something like four years and $42 million. If this happens and Trent Murphy does not look ready to take over, this is a deal the Redskins should make.

If he can break out for a career season – all signs point to it, including a new head coach, a new position coach, the promise for more opportunity to rush the QB, the addition of Murphy and Jason Hatcher to create additional pressure – Orakpo will be in line for a serious raise. Who wouldn't want an outside linebacker coming off a 16-sack season still under 30 years old? That's a situation that likely results in one team, be it the Redskins or an outside suitor, overpaying to the tune of $13-14 million per year.

Brian Orakpo

Photo Credit: Jonathan Newton/THE WASHINGTON POST

On the other hand, if he suffers another injury, especially a pectoral injury, he could see that market dry up quickly. 

Somebody will likely still give him a decent deal based off his success when healthy, but it won't be anything near the eight-digit salary he's due to receive in the aforementioned scenario. It would likely be closer to a one-year, $5 million deal, which still might be worth investigating for Washington.

Considering the Redskins took Murphy with their first pick in the draft, Orakpo might have to earn his extended time in Washington more than he otherwise would have. If Murphy has a particularly strong season and Orakpo puts up numbers on par with his career average, general manager Bruce Allen and Gruden might be content to let Rak walk. While having three quality players at outside linebacker is not necessarily a bad thing, it's hardly worth it at the anticipated price tag down the line.

So when it comes down to it, a few things come into play when deciding what Washington does with Brian Orakpo in the coming year or so.

First, he has to stay healthy. That is undoubtedly the biggest concern for both parties at this point. Second, he needs to get past the "very good" stage and enter the conversation for top OLB, which, despite his beliefs, he has not yet done. Next, Murphy (and to a lesser extent, Ryan Kerrigan) has to show that he is not yet ready to replace the 5-year veteran. Finally, Orakpo has to show that he wants to return and both sides need to be able to meet somewhere in the middle.

If all of this manages to happen, Washington should lock him down for five years. An elite pass-rusher can change games, and perhaps more importantly, make life easier on a suspect secondary. If Rak does anything less than notably step up his game for a full season, the Redskins might have to let him leave for the chance at a big payday on a team with money to burn (see Raiders, Oakland).

I personally am a big supporter of bringing him back. I liked the move to franchise him this season, as the team had the cap space to do it and it was too risky to give him a long-term deal quite yet. However, Orakpo is in a prime position to sucker somebody into breaking the bank. I'm less comfortable giving $12 million to a perpetually injured 32-year-old linebacker, and that's a situation that could certainly unravel.

For what it's worth: If Washington must overpay one of its prospective free-agent stars, I'm OK with it being Orakpo. I'd love to see him at the Pancake Social for years to come:

Come find me on Twitter: @BFrantz202

next up:

Redskins Player Profile: Leonard Hankerson

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