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Orakpo wants to stay but can the Redskins keep him?

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Orakpo wants to stay but can the Redskins keep him?

Brian Orakpo is saying all the right things. The Redskins’ linebacker will be a free agent next spring and he says that he wants to come back to the team that drafted him in the first round in 2009.

“Right now this is home,” Orakpo said. “So I would love to continue to finish my career as a Redskin.”

He said that although the team struggled this year, Orakpo is optimistic about the future.

“If we get our core guys back, add a few people here and there with all the money that we’re receiving back from all the salary-cap issues that we had, I think we’ll be up for running at another title shot again the following year,” he said.

Orakpo is certainly one of those “core guys” and there is every indication that the organization would like to have him back. However, there a matter of agreeing on a contract and that’s where things could get sticky.

Last week Orakpo told ESPN that he thought he was one of the “elite” pass rushers in the league. He is on pace to get double-digit sacks this year for the second time in his career—he has 8.5 with four games to go—but the elite players are generally more productive than that. DeMarcus Ware of the Cowboys, for example, has had double digit sacks each season from 2006-2012. Included in that string are a 20-sack year and a 19.5 sack year. That’s elite.

If the Redskins agree that Orakpo is a very good player but now up to the elite level there could be some substantial disagreement over his value. If Orakpo and his agent believe he deserves elite money, something in the neighborhood of the five-year, $65 million extension that the Packers’ Clay Matthews signed last spring. The Redskins might have in mind a number that is lower, perhaps considerably lower.

Given his desire to stay here Orakpo could give the Redskins a hometown discount. However, it’s hard to see him signing for much less than market value. He is in the prime of his career and this likely will be his one chance to get a big-money contract. As much as he would like to say, it would be foolish of him to leave millions of dollars on the table to take a deal with the Redskins.

If they can't come to an agreement the Redskins could use the franchise tag on Orakpo. In 2013 that meant a salary of $10.638 million and it is likely to stay in that neighborhood next year. But all of a franchise player's salary is immediately charged against the salary cap for that year and that would crimp the Redskins' plans to upgrade the roster.

With the expiration of the $36 million salary cap penalty the league imposed, Washington will have more cap space to work with than it has had lately, some $20-$30 million. But they also have a myriad of needs and it would be unwise to tie up too much space in one player.

The Redskins are usually able to keep the players they want to keep and given Orakpo’s desire to stay the chances are they will be able to work out a deal that both sides can live with. But it’s far from a sure thing.

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Robert Kelley, Su'a Cravens, Colt McCoy among Redskins who'll have new numbers in 2017

Robert Kelley, Su'a Cravens, Colt McCoy among Redskins who'll have new numbers in 2017

The next time Robert Kelley plows over a helpless linebacker, he'll do it with a new number on his uniform.

The second-year running back is switching from No. 32 to No. 20, according to Redskins.com. And he's not the only returning player who'll take the field in 2017 with a new pair of digits.

Su'a Cravens will no longer be No. 36 for Washington. Instead, he'll change to No. 30. DJ Swearinger will be taking over No. 36 after coming over from the Cardinals, a number that he reportedly purchased from Cravens for $75,000

Then there's Colt McCoy. McCoy has donned No. 16 for the past three seasons, but he's throwing it back to his college days and will now rock No. 12.

MORE REDSKINS: THE ULTIMATE REDSKINS DRAFT PREVIEW

Finally, second-year corner Kendall Fuller only spent one year with No. 38. As he hopes to improve in his sophomore campaign, he'll be doing so with No. 29.

As for the free agents, Terrelle Pryor will be replacing DeSean Jackson in more ways than one when kickoff rolls around. Not only will the ex-Brown have to shine as a top receiver for Kirk Cousins like Jackson did, but he'll also be sporting Jackson's No. 11.

New linebacker Zach Brown, meanwhile, is now No. 56, linemen Stacy McGee and Terrell McClain are Nos. 92 and 97 respectively and Brian Quick will keep No. 83 from his Rams days.

For a complete list of all the changes, click here.

RELATED: IS REUBEN FOSTER WORTH THE RISK?

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How big a need do the Redskins have at running back?

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How big a need do the Redskins have at running back?

Do the Redskins have a draft need at running back? It depends on who you ask.

Jay Gruden seems to be very happy with incumbent running back Rob Kelley. Here is what he had to say last month about the second-year back, signed as an undrafted free agent out of Tulane, last month:

“Oh, man, I love Rob Kelley,” Gruden said. “I thought he played great. You throw a rookie free agent into the fire like that and see him play and compete. Not one time did I feel like it was too big for him. Not once. That’s a hell of a thing to say for a kid out of Tulane who only had a couple of carries his senior year. He came right in, he competes on every play.”

[Related: Full Redskins Seven-Round Mock Draft]

Kelley played in 15 games last year and rushed for 704 yards and scored six touchdowns. He started the last nine games and if you project his numbers in this games out over a 16-game season you get about 1,050 yards and 11 touchdowns. That’s not Ezekiel Elliott or Le’Veon Bell production but it’s good for a team that is going to rely mostly on the pass.

Gruden also praised third-down back Chris Thompson and backup Mack Brown. In a telling sign, he acknowledged that 2015 third-round pick Matt Jones is still on the roster but he didn’t have much good to say about him.

Why, then, do you see so many draft analysts listing running back as one of the team’s most urgent needs? Mark Maske, who is the Post’s national NFL writer but also a former Redskins beat reporter, has them taking Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey in his mock draft. “There certainly are issues on defense for the Redskins,” writes Maske. But there also is a need at running back.”

Lance Zierlein of NFL.com said that the Redskins “obviously” need a running back as his rationale for mocking Florida State’s Dalvin Cook to Washington at No. 17.

So, what is it? Is Kelley adequate for the Redskins’ needs considering they call pass plays on over 60 percent of their offensive snaps? Would they run more often if they had a back like McCaffrey or Cook? And if they did run more would the offense improve?

I think that running back is like several positions with the Redskins. If they have to get through the 2016 season with what they have they will be OK. But if there is an upgrade on the board when they are on the clock they won’t hesitate to make the pick if he’s the best player available.

We will see what happens if, say, McCaffrey is still on the board when the Redskins pick at No. 17 and top defensive targets like Rueben Foster and Haason Reddick are off the board. That will be the true test to see how committed Gruden and the rest of the organization are to Kelley, Thompson, and company. 

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