The Washington Redskins have been eliminated from playoff contention and both Coach Mike Shanahan and wide receiver Pierre Garcon have acknowledged in recent weeks that players and coaches alike are playing for their jobs in what remains of a lost season. No one at Redskins Park has done more lately to enhance his future employment opportunities than outside linebacker Brian Orakpo.
Orakpo, 27, is among seven current defensive starters for the Redskins eligible for unrestricted free agency after the season. And he is making himself a more attractive — and, most likely, expensive — free agent target for NFL teams all the time, with 51 / 2 sacks in the Redskins’ past four games. Orakpo said Wednesday that his preference “absolutely” remains to re-sign with the Redskins.
“Right now this is home,” he said at Redskins Park. “So I would love to continue to finish my career as a Redskin. Obviously we’re 3-9 so it’s a disappointing season. But that doesn’t take away from what I know we’re capable of. 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. But like I said, we’ve got to finish this last quarter and then everything else will take care of itself with the contracts and with who’s here, who’s not, stuff like that.”
He had a two-sack performance in last Sunday night’s loss to the New York Giants, which officially knocked the Redskins out of the NFC playoff chase, and he has 81 / 2 sacks on the season.
“It’s just coming at a good time, the second half of the season,” the 6-foot-4, 257-pound Orakpo said. “I haven’t really changed my game. Like I said, it’s just finally [being] able to get the plays that I want. I’ve just got to continue to play at a very high level for my defense and try and win some ballgames in the last quarter of the season.”
Pass rushers are a top commodity around the league, and Orakpo’s recent flourish appears to have strengthened his chances considerably of landing a lucrative contract in free agency. The Redskins will have the ability to spend money on the free agent market with the expiration of their two-year, $36 million salary cap reduction imposed on them by the league. But if they’re unable to re-sign Orakpo before the market opens, it now appears they could face significant competition by other bidders.
Orakpo consistently has said he would like to remain with the Redskins, the team with which he has spent his entire five-year NFL career. A person familiar with the team’s planning said before the season that the Redskins were intent upon keeping Orakpo. But it’s not clear how much progress, if any, has been made in contract negotiations. Orakpo has said all season he was leaving those matters to his representatives and he wasn’t allowing his pending free agency to dominate his thoughts.
“I wish you could be inside my head, man,” he said Wednesday. “I honestly do not care about the contract situation. I don’t care. I really don’t stress about it, worry about it, because I’m fine. Like I said, last quarter of the season, I want to finish strong and everything will take care of itself.”
Others in the Redskins’ locker room are dealing with similar issues.
“It’s on my mind,” said wide receiver Santana Moss, another prospective free agent. “But it’s nothing I can control. So at the end of the day, I just go out there and do what I can do for right now.”
Orakpo has 38 sacks in 61 games in his Redskins tenure. With four games left, he has a chance to equal or surpass his single-season career high of 11 sacks set as a rookie in 2009. He acknowledged that after suffering tears of the same pectoral muscle in each of the previous two seasons, he still had mental obstacles related to those injuries to overcome in this season’s early stages.
“Anybody that tells you when you’re coming off a significant injury that they’re fine, this and that, we’re just saying that,” Orakpo said. “In all honesty, it is a mental thing because you don’t want to be put in that same situation. Especially me being a defender and simple stuff I did and I tore my pec — I was kind of favoring it at times. I just didn’t want to go through that same experience and miss a whole season again. So it took me a while to get accustomed to things. It took me a while to get my tackling better, everything, just everything, be more physical . . . because at times I was favoring it like I didn’t want to.”
Fellow linebackers London Fletcher and Perry Riley Jr., cornerbacks DeAngelo Hall and Josh Wilson and safeties Brandon Meriweather and Reed Doughty — all current defensive starters — also are eligible for free agency this offseason. Nose tackle Barry Cofield said Wednesday he is curious about what will happen to the team’s defense in the offseason.
“It’s something I definitely wonder about,” Cofield said. “Obviously I have zero control over it. I’m interested to see what the front office’s plan is. But obviously you’ve got to stay focused on the now and try to enjoy these last four weeks playing with these guys. Realistically, I do wonder how we’re going to look next year.”