Why an Orakpo extension should wait

Why an Orakpo extension should wait
May 7, 2013, 12:15 pm
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Brian Orakpo spoke to the media prior to teeing off in his charity golf tournament on Monday and he said that all was well with the rehab of the pectoral muscle he tore last September.

He said that he is 100 percent and that he tore a different area of the pec than he tore in January of 2012. That injury happened in the last game of the 2011 season so he only missed only about a half of action but he had to spend his offseason in rehab.

Orakpo is in the last year of the five-year contract he signed after the Redskins made him the 13th pick in the 2009 draft. He made it clear he’s like to remain in Washington well beyond 2013.

“That’s something that’s on the back of my mind right now. It’s hard to discuss,” he said. “We know what’s at stake, coaches know what I mean to this organization. That shouldn’t be a problem once it’s all said and done.”

“I would love to be a Redskin for life,” he added.

He didn’t rule out the possibility of signing a new contract before training camp starts. However, it seems unlikely that he will.

The issue is that it is difficult to establish a fair market value for Brian Orakpo. The difference between his potential upside and down side is substantial.

Matthews sets the market

The Packers’ Clay Matthews’ rookie contract was up at the end of this season (he was the 26th overall pick in that 2009 draft). Last month he signed a five-year extension worth $13.2 million per year.

Matthews will be cashing those big checks after posting 42.5 sacks in his first four years in the NFL. After playing for three seasons (not counting his 2012 season, which lasted less than a game and a half), Orakpo has 29.5 career sacks.

If Orakpo posts 13 sacks in 2013—certainly within the realm of possibility especially if the Redskins’ offense remains effective—he will have as many career sacks as Matthews did after playing four seasons. Although one could argue that he wouldn’t quite warrant what Matthews makes due to the year missed due to the injury, he certainly would command a contract in excess of $10 million per year.

That’s the upside. The downside is that he could have a mediocre 2013 season, maybe miss a few games and post six or eight sacks. In a passing league where rushing the quarterback is the best way to stop the other team, Orakpo still would have considerable value. But his ceiling would be the five-year, $40.5 million free agent deal that ex-Raven Paul Kruger signed with the Browns after getting nine sacks in his first season as a starter. And that ceiling might be difficult to reach.

That’s still a decent payday and the Redskins camp would probably be happy if they could get Orakpo to sign a similar deal.

But Orakpo could benefit greatly from betting on himself and playing out his contract. With a Matthews-like contract at the end of the rainbow, Orakpo could cash in big with a big season.

The Redskins have some protection for that scenario in that they could use the franchise tag on Orakpo. In 2013 the linebacker tag was worth about $9.4 million and it should be something close to that next season. That is a substantial chunk of cap space to have eaten up with the Redskins should to into the year about $25 million under the cap so they should be able to afford it.

The injury risk

In the background is the injury issue. Orakpo missed one game in his first three seasons in the league so it may be unfair to tag him with the “injury prone” label. But he could decide to sign a deal at his current (relatively low) market value in order to take the injury risk out of the equation.

But, if the truly believes that his injury last year was “a freak accident”, that he is 100 percent healthy and ready, as he said last month, “to wreak havoc . . . to get my crown back as far as putting hell to these quarterbacks in the NFC East and all over the NFL,” it would be wise of him to hold off on signing that new deal.

Should the Redskins push for an extension, perhaps overpaying Orakpo’s current value in order to get some relief from his 2013 cap number of $5.1 million? It’s possible that they could shave a couple of million dollars off of that number and that would give them about $4 million in cap space, which would be plenty to sign their draft picks, set their final roster and get through the season.

However, in doing so they would be pushing cap money into future seasons and would perhaps end up with a bad contract. If Orakpo is merely a good player but is being paid as a very good to great one the Redskins will have more cap problems down the road.

The bottom line is that while there is some incentive on both sides to get a deal done sooner rather than later, the better thing to do may be to wait. This will be the one big contract that Orakpo will sign in his career and it could be one of the biggest investments the Redskins will make over the next five years. With the uncertainty currently surrounding Orakpo, the smart thing to do would be to wait, see what his market value is, and hammer out a deal from there. Doing otherwise runs the risk of having a contract that one side or the other isn’t happy with a couple of years down the road.