Washington Redskins officials were in final deliberations this weekend over what was described as a difficult decision about whether to devote the financial resources necessary to retain outside linebacker Brian Orakpo.
According to several people familiar with the situation, the Redskins like Orakpo as a player and ideally would prefer to keep him. But there have been differing views within the organization, according to those sources, about the wisdom of either using the franchise player tag or pursing an expensive long-term contract with Orakpo when that money and salary cap space instead could be used to address other needs.
“I think there’s a lot of back and forth on it,” said one person with knowledge of the team’s deliberations. “I don’t think it’s clear cut.”
That person said Orakpo, a three-time Pro Bowl selection who had a team-leading 10 sacks last season, is “held in high regard” by club officials but “it wouldn’t be shocking” if the Redskins decide it would be too expensive to keep him and allow him to depart via free agency.
One member of the organization described it as “a really close call” as to whether to use the franchise tag on Orakpo. Another person with knowledge of the team’s planning said he suspected the Redskins might use the tag on Orakpo but that wasn’t certain.
Orakpo is eligible for unrestricted free agency March 11. The Redskins have until Monday to decide whether to use the franchise designation on him.
The two sides are said to have been in ongoing contract talks but the team had not made a formal contract proposal to Orakpo as of Friday, according to one person with ties to the organization.
The franchise tag for a linebacker was set at $11.455 million Friday when the league informed teams that the salary cap for the 2014 season had been set at $133 million per club. There has been some media speculation that if the Redskins use the franchise designation on Orakpo, he would argue that he is entitled to the franchise-player deal for a defensive end of $13.116 million, based on the number of snaps at which he lined up at each position last season.
Using the franchise tag on Orakpo would, in effect, take him off the unrestricted free agent market. The Redskins would have the right to retain him by matching any contract offer sheet he might sign with another team, and the right to receive two first-round draft selections from Orakpo’s new team if they allow him to depart. For a higher price, the Redskins officially could take Orakpo off the market with the exclusive franchise tag, prohibiting him from negotiating with other teams.
The Redskins alternatively could use the transition tag, which would give them the right to keep Orakpo by matching an offer from another team but not the right to receive draft-choice compensation if he leaves. The transition tag is worth $9.754 million for a one-year contract for a linebacker, and $10.633 million for a defensive end.
A long-term contract would be likely be cap-friendly in the 2014 season in its first year but would require a sizable financial commitment by the Redskins.
The Redskins are estimated to have about $30 million in available salary cap space and are likely to be active in the free agent market. But some in the organization are reluctant, it appears, to use a large portion of that salary cap room on one player when the Redskins have other needs to address throughout the defense, at wide receiver and perhaps on the offensive line.
The team’s contingency plan if it loses Orakpo probably would be to try to sign a free agent outside linebacker, or draft one, a person with knowledge of the situation said. Orakpo’s backup the last four seasons, Rob Jackson, also is eligible for unrestricted free agency. But the team has not had contract discussions with him, according to another person close to the situation.