ORLANDO – Redskins coach Jay Gruden said that he’s inclined to let linebacker Brian Orakpo play out this season under the franchise tag rather than negotiate a long-term deal, so evaluations can continue before the team commits big money to the fifth-year pro.
Orakpo would have become a free agent this offseason, and the Redskins had interest in retaining him. But after failing to reach an agreement on the terms of a long-term contract that would have suited both Orakpo and the team, Washington’s decision-makers used the franchise tag to hang on to him.
Using the tag on Orakpo meant Washington committed $11.45 million – nearly a third of their available cap space – to the pass-rusher. That left the Redskins with $18.58 million at the start of free agency. Because of their abundant needs, they had to pass on the pursuing the league’s marquee free agents. But Gruden said the team did the right thing and couldn’t afford to let Orakpo, who recorded a team-high 10 sacks last season, walk.
“Pass rushers don’t grow on trees, and at the time we did it we weren’t sure what pass rushers would be available,” Gruden said Wednesday morning at the NFC coaches breakfast at the annual league meetings. “There was still a chance for Seattle to franchise [Michael] Bennett, or some of the top pass rushers out there we weren’t sure who would be available. So, we thought it was very important to take care of one of our own, who we groomed and coached up, and also the fact that pass rushers don’t grow on trees. We thought it was very important we got one and we’re happy with Brian.”
League rules permit the Redskins and Orakpo to continue to negotiate toward a long-term deal. Such a move would prevent him from hitting the free agent market again next offseason. But Gruden didn’t see that as a pressing need for Washington.
“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. “He’s a talented player. I think he can do a little bit better. [We] can ask more of him where he could be more productive as far as getting his hand down and rushing more instead of dropping [into pass coverage] quite so much. We have high hopes for Brian and whether the deal gets done or not, we know he’ll be a big part of our success [in 2014].”
Orakpo recorded 11 sacks as a 4-3 defensive end during his rookie season. The year after, he moved to outside linebacker, and this past season was his first double-digit sack season at that position. The Redskins would like for him to become more disruptive.
In forming his staff, Gruden hired outside linebackers coach Brian Baker, whose primary responsibility centers on helping Orakpo and his fellow outside linebackers improve as pass rushers. Gruden said the hope is that the change in defensive philosophy, and the addition of Baker translates into significant growth for Orakpo.
“It will help him a lot,” Gruden said of Baker’s tutoring Orakpo. “One, you’re going to put a focus on it for every day. ‘Here’s Brian Baker. Have fun man, go work on your pass-rushing techniques and your fundamentals.’ … Rushing the passer, there’s a lot of technique involved with it, getting off on the snap count, your pad level. All that becomes very important. If you’re not working on that every day you won’t be as effective as you should be.”
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