The Washington Redskins announced Monday they had applied their franchise player tag to Brian Orakpo, effectively keeping the outside linebacker off the NFL’s free agent market. The move retains one of the Redskins’ most productive players but will tie up more than $11 million on a one-year contract for Orakpo and reduce the amount of money available to sign free agents to shore up their roster.
“They did what they had to do,” Orakpo said. “I’m just kind of glad we can at least make a step moving forward instead of being at a stalemate with this whole situation.”
The team’s announcement came about 21 / 2 hours before the 4 p.m. deadline for teams to use the franchise designation. It was the final day of a two-week window to apply the status to players. The Redskins were unable to complete a long-term contract with Orakpo before Monday’s announcement but can continue to pursue such a deal.
Orakpo’s agent, Ben Dogra, said he and Orakpo were “not surprised” by the move.
“He has enjoyed his time with the Washington Redskins and it is clearly evident they view him as a key member of their football team,” Dogra said. “We will continue to communicate in hopes of reaching a long-term deal at some point.”
Redskins General Manager Bruce Allen did not respond to a request for comment.
Orakpo said he is receptive to continuing to negotiate a contract to keep him with the team beyond the 2014 season. “Hopefully we can get something done as far as long term,” Orakpo said in a telephone interview. “But at least this is a step moving forward and not backward.”
The move all but ensures that Orakpo, a three-time Pro Bowl selection who led the team with 10 sacks last season, will not be able to sign with another club when the NFL’s free agent market opens next Tuesday.
The Redskins used the non-exclusive franchise tag on Orakpo, according to the team. He remains eligible for free agency. But the Redskins have the right to retain him by matching any offer by another team, and the right to receive two first-round draft picks from his new club if they allow him to depart.They could have officially taken him off the market by using the exclusive franchise tag but that would have been more costly.
The team contends that Orakpo is entitled to the franchise player figure for a linebacker of $11.455 million, according to a Redskins official. The Redskins referred to Orakpo as a linebacker in their notification to the NFL of the move. But Orakpo could challenge the position at which he is franchised through a grievance and ask for the higher figure of $13.116 million for a defensive end. A person close to the situation said team officials realize Orakpo could argue for that figure, based on the number of plays he lined up at each position last season.
Redskins officials were said to have gone back and forth in recent days over whether to retain Orakpo or use that money and salary cap space to address other needs. That process continued until shortly before Monday’s announcement, according to a person familiar with the deliberations, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
With the NFL having set the salary cap at $133 million per team, the Redskins were estimated to have about $30 million in available cap space. Team officials weighed whether to devote more than one-third of that salary cap room to one player, or to use those resources to chip away at a sizable list of needs that includes several spots on defense, wide receiver and possibly multiple positions on the offensive line.
Several people familiar with the team’s planning said in recent days there were differing views within the organization and it was described as a close call. But there was no question that the Redskins liked Orakpo as a player and, economic considerations aside, preferred to keep him. Pass rushers are a valuable commodity within the sport and Orakpo has been productive, with 391 / 2 sacks in five seasons with the Redskins since being selected in the opening round of the 2009 NFL draft out of the University of Texas.
His 10 sacks last season were his most in a year since he had 11 in his rookie season in 2009. He rebounded nicely after missing all but two games of the 2012 season because of a torn pectoral muscle and he is regarded as a good all-around defender who plays well against the run and in pass coverage.
“Yeah, they’ve expressed myself being a priority being back,” Orakpo said. “Normally the Redskins like to get rid of home-grown talent, or homegrown talent doesn’t develop the way they want to. But they prioritized myself as far as having a career here. I’m still in my prime and had the one injury setback, but still came back very strong and so I commend them on that.
“I want something that can work out for the both of us and this was that one step moving forward, and I’m happy to continue hopefully being a part of the Redskins and hopefully getting something done long-term eventually.”
Redskins note: Safety Jose Gumbs said he had been re-signed to a one-year deal. In his first full season in the NFL, Gumbs appeared in eight games, starting one, and recorded six tackles and an interception.