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.