Brian Orakpo signed his franchise tender this morning. He has until July 15 to work out a long-term contract with the Redskins. If he doesn’t, he will have to play the year making $11.45 million (every dime of it is now guaranteed) and become a free agent again in 2015.
It seems that the latter scenario is much more likely than a long-term deal. Jay Gruden said as much on Wednesday.
“We’d like to get him here for as many years as we can, but right now I wouldn’t mind letting him play out this franchise tag and see what happens,” Gruden said at the NFL owners meeting in Orlando. He’s a talented player. I think he can do a little bit better.”
So Gruden wants to see more out of Orakpo before giving him the big deal that every player wants. That’s a football reason to wait on locking up the team’s first-round pick in the 2009 draft. There are other reasons:
—Orakpo will be 28 shortly after the start of training camp. He is in excellent shape but, as we all know, Father Time is undefeated. Usually the bigger salaries in a five-year contract come in the later years, just when Orakpo turns 30. Although he could well still be productive, the Redskins would likely be paying him escalating salaries in a time when his skills are beginning to decline.
—Signing Orakpo for five years would almost certainly mean the end of Ryan Kerrigan as a Redskin after the 2015 season. This is the last year of his rookie deal and then the team will almost certainly exercise a one-year option that will keep him around through 2015 for a salary of about $5 million. Then he will be a free agent in 2016. You don’t have to be a master capologist to figure out that you can’t have two premium contracts at the same position without running into serious cap trouble. Kerrigan generally doesn’t post as many sacks as Orakpo but he has more big plays like touchdowns and forced on his resume. The team doesn’t want to be in the position of being forced to let Kerrigan, who will be entering his age 28 season in 2016, walk because are obligated to pay Orakpo who, as noted, will be turning 30.
—There is no indication that Orakpo's camp and the Redskins are anywhere close on money. There were reports that the two sides were not close when the tag was applied on March 10 and nothing has happened in the interim that would change that enough to let them "meet in the middle", as Orakpo said.
—They will have the option of tagging him again next year. If Orakpo rushes the passer more often, as both Gruden and Jim Haslett have promised he will, and gets, say, 15 sacks, his market value will skyrocket. But the Redskins know exactly what it will cost them to keep him in Washington for another year. It would be 120 percent of what he is making this year or about $13.75 million. That’s a fairly hefty salary cap hit but the cap is likely to increase by about $8-$10 million next year so it can be absorbed.
It’s easy to say, “pay the man” and you can argue that Orakpo “deserves” to get a long-term deal. But the way the NFL salary cap works, paying one man often means that you can’t pay another man. There are choices to be made and the Redskins may well choose to keep Orakpo around for only one or two more years.