Orakpo the right call for Redskins

Brian Orakpo has been designated the franchise player for the Washington Redskins. (AP)

WASHINGTON – Yesterday, just 90 minutes before the league-imposed deadline, the Washington Redskins designated Brian Orakpo their franchise player.

Throughout the next few days (and maybe even months) many will question the wisdom in this transaction. I’m here to tell you it was the right call.

The Redskins wrestled with this decision. Then mulled over it some more. Finally, general manager Bruce Allen and company arrived at the decision that made the most sense for all parties involved.

They slapped Orakpo with the non-exclusive rights franchise tag, meaning he’ll play the 2014 season at the average salary of the top five paid players at his position (which for linebackers is $11.455 million). Orakpo has the right to negotiate with other teams, but the ‘Skins get the opportunity to match any offer. If ‘Rak goes elsewhere, the Redskins get two first round draft picks as compensation — which would be awesome for a team that hasn’t had a first round pick in any of the last two drafts.

The latter scenario is highly unlikely. With just 39.5 sacks in his five NFL seasons, Orakpo hasn’t distinguished himself nearly enough for someone to pay that steep a price for his services. Even the Redskins are on the fence about him because he’s shown flashes that he can be elite, but he’s never put together a full season of evidence to support that notion.

However, Orakpo is the best pass rusher on a team devoid of defensive talent. Just letting him walk shouldn’t be an option. At 27 years-old, he’s entering his prime. He’s the healthiest he’s been in years. This season, he’ll play in a defense he already knows and promises to play more to his strengths.

Yes, paying one man over $11 million is steep. But that’s the going rate for pass rushers, folks. Only quarterbacks will cost you more.

That’s where some of the detractors of the Orakpo tagging lose the point. The Redskins have roughly $30 million dollars in cap space to play with. Spending a third of that space on a homegrown guy with the potential to be a great player at the most important non-QB position isn’t a bad investment.

Furthermore, this regime has proven they’re bargain shoppers in free agency. They haven’t targeted the big-name players; they go for the second-tier guys who fit their system and won’t blow up their budget. Pierre Garcon is the biggest free agent signing since 2010, and he came here on a 5-year, $42.5 million deal — a contract that pales in comparison to some of the other deals the previous regime handed out for way less production.

After Garcon’s 113 catches for 1,346 yards and five touchdowns in 2013, I can picture Allen sitting in a VIP booth at some swanky lounge saying, “I don’t spend big often…but when I do, they produce.”

Oh wait…I may be thinking of someone else. But I digress.

Chances are, the $20 million in leftover cap space will be more than enough to address other needs — many of which won’t get addressed in free agency this off- season anyway. This front office builds through the draft, so much of that cap space probably isn’t getting used anyway.

The real issue seems to be people either overestimating or underestimating Orakpo. He’s not elite, but he’s definitely not a scrub either. He’s a good, but not great, player and it’s hard to really put a price tag on his true value.

That said, Orakpo can dictate that price in 2014. If he comes out and has an impact year (i.e.–15 sacks, six or seven forced fumbles, and maybe another pick six for good measure), he’ll get top-flight money. If he has another 10 sack season (seven of which came during the Redskins’ 8-game losing streak to end 2013), Orakpo and the ‘Skins are right back to square one.

That’s why the Redskins did the right thing by franchising Orakpo. It buys them one more opportunity to see what they have in their three-time Pro Bowl linebacker.

If he finally plays up to his potential, it’ll be money well spent.

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