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Need to Know: What are the Redskins' options with Orakpo in 2015?

Need to Know: What are the Redskins' options with Orakpo in 2015?

Here is what you need to know on this Wednesday, July 16, eight days before the Redskins start training camp.

Three and out

Yesterday’s 4 p.m. deadline for Brian Orakpo to sign a long-term contract with the Redskins came and went without a deal being done. He’ll play this year on a one-year, $11.45 million contract. Let’s fast forward to 2015 and consider how this might play out.

—A lot of how 2015 plays out will depend on what happens the rest of 2014. If Orakpo is healthy and produces, say, 15 sacks and makes some game-changing plays the Redskins will work on a way to keep him, either with a big money, long-term deal or by using the franchise tag again. If he gets 10 low-impact sacks and doesn’t do much in the turnover department they might be inclined to let him walk unless he signs a very team friendly deal. And by “team friendly” I mean something with a cap number in the $7 million to $8 million range that the team with a fairly low amount of guaranteed money.

—The reason the Redskins will base much of their decision on how Orakpo performs this year is that they are giving him everything he needs to be successful. They spent $10 million in guaranteed month to land Jason Hatcher to give him some help with an inside pass rush. They spent their top draft pick on Trent Murphy, who will line up with Orakpo in certain packages and draw some more attention away from him. The team brought in coach Brian Baker to coach his position and refine his pass rush technique. Jim Haslett has promised his scheme will feature more aggressive rush and less containment responsibilities. If he can’t become a top pass rusher under those circumstances at the age of 28 there isn’t much hope that he ever will.

—As noted, the Redskins will have the option of tagging Orakpo again in 2015. The issue with counting on that strategy is that players generally don’t like getting the tag for a second time. This time around, Orakpo signed the tender before the offseason program started. That let him participate on OTAs and obligated him to come to minicamp and training camp. But things might not go quite so smoothly the next time around. Orakpo’s camp might want to play hardball and take the only course of action they can, withhold the player’s services. We’re a long way from that happening but it’s one more thing that both sides have to consider as this situation plays out.

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Timeline

—It’s been 199 days since the Redskins played a game; in 53 days they play the Texans in their 2014 season opener.

Days until: Preseason opener vs. Patriots 22; Final cuts 45; Home opener Jaguars @ Redskins 61

Redskins take wait and see approach with Orakpo.

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Redskins Playbook: Looking at Kirk Cousins' Week 2 hits and misses

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Kirk Cousins played better in Week 2 than he did in Week 1, but the quarterback still didn't play as well as he's proved capable in previous seasons. He finished the 27-20 win over the Rams by going 18 of 27 for 179 yards with a touchdown. Important for Cousins, after three turnovers in a Week 1 loss, he did not fumble or throw an interception in Los Angeles. 

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Digging deeper into the numbers, one trend has emerged: Cousins and the Redskins are not having much luck in the downfield passing game. Stats provided by Pro Football Focus.

  • This season, Cousins has not completed a pass longer than 20 yards in the air. Against the Eagles in Week 1, Cousins missed on five deep attempts. Against the Rams, Cousins didn't have a deep attempt. 
  • Not surprisingly, Cousins does much better when he's not under pressure. On the season, the Redskins passer is completing nearly 70 percent of his passes without pressure, and that number drops to just below 43 percent under pressure. 
  • Cousins took four sacks against the Eagles, but that number dropped in half against the Rams.
  • Against the Rams, Cousins found his greatest success throwing to his left. On attempts to his left side, he completed all five attempts. Throwing over the middle or to the right, he threw 19 passes and completed 13. Week 1 Cousins also found his best success throwing to his left. 

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Preston Smith off to a strong start but Redskins want to see more

Preston Smith off to a strong start but Redskins want to see more

The end of Preston Smith’s 2015 rookie season set high expectations for his future. The outside linebacker racked up six sacks in the final four games including three in the Redskins’ division-clinching win in Philadelphia and one that got Aaron Rodgers for a safety in their wild-card playoff game. His eight sacks led all NFL rookies

But he wasn’t the player the team hoped he would be in 2016, at least not consistently. Smith got 4.5 sacks on the year. He had some dominant games like the one against the Vikings when he got two sacks and his first career interception. But he also disappeared for weeks at a time.

This past offseason the Redskins drafted outside linebacker Ryan Anderson in the second round and they re-signed Junior Galette. You always want to have good depth at the edge rushing position but it also appeared that the organization wanted to ensure that it would have alternatives if Smith’s sophomore slump extended into his third season.

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But so far, we have seen a Preston Smith who looks more like the one who finished up his rookie season than the often invisible 2016 version. He has two sacks in two games plus two quarterback hits and two hurries. While it’s very early, Smith is starting to live up to the potential he showed as a rookie.

His versatility has impressed Jay Gruden.

“I think he’s doing good against the run, number one,” he said. “That’s what we have to do. He’s got to set the point. You’ve got to set the point of attack, and he’s done a good job of that.”

Per Pro Football Focus, Smith has played 86 snaps. He has rushed the passer in most his plays, 46. But he also has defended the run 28 snaps and has dropped back into coverage 12 times. He has allowed one reception for six yards in those coverage snaps.

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The rest of Gruden’s answer to the question about Smith’s play was interesting.

And then when he’s asked to rush some, he’s done fine. I think he and Junior [Galette] had some good rushes. Junior got that critical holding call that pushed them back out of the red zone and forcing them into a field goal and obviously [Ryan] Kerrigan is doing his thing, so all three of those guys are doing a great job as far as giving a chance of pace. Preston is doing a good job. He can go inside, he can use his bull [rush] and he’s working on his get off. So I think he’s getting better and better.

Note that Gruden is nowhere near over the top in his praise of Smith. He brings in Galette and Kerrigan to turn the topic to the pass rush in general and uses words like “fine” and “good” to describe Smith’s play. Smith has been a source of frustration for the coaches as he often has relied on his natural ability rather than working to master the finer points of the job. The willingness to work on the details is often the difference between a talented player who just gets by and one who racks up 15-sack seasons, goes to Pro Bowls, and gets paid with large contracts.

Smith’s start is encouraging for the Redskins but Gruden and company are going to want to see a lot more before they dish out big compliments for him.

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerCSN and follow him on Twitter @Rich_TandlerCSN.