And now, the Redskins begin their traditional NFL offseason title chase.
Without a first-round pick and only a couple impact free agent signings realistically available, Washington’s biggest hope for rebounding from a 3-13 disaster is to re-sign its own top free agents.
It all begins with Brian Orakpo.
The Redskins have seven defensive free agent starters. It would be easy to say, “Who needs those guys?” after the team finished 18th in total defense and 31st in points allowed. But there are certain players that need to be kept.
Incoming coach Jay Gruden retained defensive coordinator Jim Haslett and most likely the 3-4 defense. But then, with only four sure starters returning, it would be easy to switch back to a 4-3.
Orakpo is really the key to which way the Redskins are headed. For years under owner Dan Snyder, the team rarely kept its own stars. Snyder always highly valued other teams’ players — even if they were past their prime. It was a disastrous recipe, from signing Deion Sanders to Adam Archuleta to Albert Haynesworth.
Orakpo is a three-time Pro Bowler since he was selected 13th overall in 2009. He is the heart of the team, not London Fletcher or Robert Griffin III. You want a warrior in the locker room — that’s Orakpo.
The downside has been his injuries, and that makes it hard to decide whether to outbid Oakland or perhaps Jacksonville for the linebacker or apply a franchise tag that might cost $11 million annually. Orakpo played in 15 games in 2013 after battling torn pectoral muscles the previous two season, so he appears healthy once more. But do the Redskins want to be liable for a five-year deal when another torn pec could diminish — or end — his career?
Orakpo would cost perhaps a third of the Redskins’ free agent budget, but he’s worth it. The defense needs a core player, and Orakpo is it. At 27, he’s in his prime. Keeping the outside pass rusher means Washington has a playmaker on one side with the improving Ryan Kerrigan on the other. They’re remindful of defensive ends Dexter Manley and Charles Mann in the 1980s, who together were the best tandem in the game.
If Seattle’s Super Bowl XLVIII victory on Sunday taught us anything, it’s that the Redskins must improve their secondary to contend. They must re-sign cornerback DeAngelo Hall. The secondary is also where free agency money should be spent on outsiders. The offensive line needs massive help, but it’s hard to find free agents because teams keep good linemen, so they should save early draft picks for the line. It’s easier to find more secondary help via free agency.
But first, it’s all about signing Orakpo, a fan favorite who has produced. Otherwise, the Redskins are chasing the wind again.