The Redskins decided to rent instead of buy when they slapped the franchise tag on linebacker Brian Orakpo on Monday.
It was the smart-money move. The Redskins control their 2009 first-rounder for 2014 by paying $11.45 million rather than allowing Orakpo to seek a more lucrative deal when free agency begins March 11.
Another team could still sign Orakpo by giving Washington two first-round picks, though that’s a real long shot. Carolina gave up two firsts to sign Washington’s franchised defensive tackle Sean Gilbert in 1999, which eventually brought cornerback Champ Bailey, linebacker LaVar Arrington and running back Clinton Portis to the Redskins while Gilbert was a bust.
Orakpo isn’t worth $11.45 million, but the Redskins decided they couldn’t afford to lose him just yet. The team is reversing a long history of letting players it drafted leave while pursuing free agents, which often proved wrong. This time it’s buying one more season to see if Orakpo is a long-term playmaker.
Orakpo was healthy throughout 2013, but his pectoral injuries in 2011-12 still make him suspect for a five-year, mega-
dollar deal. One offensive tackle could hook Orakpo’s arm backward and his career would be jeopardized. It’s too much money to risk long term without seeing a second healthy season.
Orakpo hasn’t been quite the dominant pass rusher he was expected to be, but then he hasn’t gained enough help from teammates to blossom. If the secondary improves — making passers wait an extra second looking for an open receiver — Orakpo will probably have a few more sacks per season.
If defensive coordinator Jim Haslett truly was restrained by former coach Mike Shanahan, then let’s see if the new system creates the second coming of Dexter Manley and Charles Mann by turning Orakpo into a 15-sack pass rusher and Ryan Kerrigan into 10-plus.
Orakpo has been a solid player when healthy, but he hasn’t been a difference-maker. When the Redskins won seven straight games in 2012, Orakpo was injured.
But Washington has no pass pressure without him, so the team spent a third of its free agency budget to keep Orakpo. A long-term deal would have been more salary cap-friendly this season, but the uncertainty of whether Orakpo is worth it forced the short-term move. Also, without a first-rounder and no standout free agent available, the loss of Orakpo would have created another need on a team with too many already.
Washington could still work out a long-term deal later, while Orakpo can refuse to sign and hold out. Both scenarios are unlikely. Orakpo wants to be treated as a higher-paid end but plays linebacker more, so discussions will probably go nowhere until after the season.
Meanwhile, $11.45 million isn’t bad money for one season.