There will be pressure on linebacker Brian Orakpo to produce a few more big plays or record a couple more sacks now that he’ll be paid $11.45 million this year. Is that reasonable? After all, he’s been consistent in his four full seasons, always between eight and 11 sacks. Can he suddenly become a 12-sack guy? Just because a guy gets paid more money doesn’t mean he’ll become something he hasn’t previously been.
Perhaps he can if the Redskins free up how he rushes the passer, asking the outside linebackers to rush with less contain. That’s not just an excuse; watch the outside linebackers and they were rather consistent with how they had to rush. But that’s not always a bad thing; certain quarterbacks would pick them apart by sliding through openings created by an undisciplined rush. Heck, they did that this season because the interior wasn’t collapsed enough.
But if there’s strong familiarity with the linebackers and the ends/tackles (in a nickel rush), it would give the rushers more chance to freelance a little. The tackles/ends must be able to play off the linebackers if they veer off path to make sure the pocket remains tight. That could result in more sacks, but I’ll be curious if that is overall better for the defense – if it's not able to work in sync.
There’s a lot being said about the defense this offseason and what will be different next season. More pass rushes for the outside linebackers. Less meddling by the head coach. It sounds great in March. The Redskins need to make sure it works next season, otherwise the heat will intensify – not on the head coach, either.
While former coach Mike Shanahan liked to be involved in the defense, it now comes across as if all the defensive ills somehow occurred because of his meddling. Is that fair? Some of it probably is; the inability for defensive coordinator Jim Haslett to be fully in charge in terms of picking his assistants didn’t help, among other things. But it also seems like Shanahan has become a convenient target for all their issues.
I don’t know if the Redskins would have interest in Pittsburgh’s Jason Worilds or not had Orakpo hit the open market. He’s the sort of guy who would make some sense because the system he played in was the same as Washington’s. If you’re going to give a guy big money, it’s best to do it with someone you either have a connection with or who has played in the same system.
But with Worilds being given a transition tag and few attractive options, it almost left the Redskins with few options for a strong replacement if they lost Orakpo.
One thing you wouldn’t have to worry about with Orakpo is a big contract changing him. He’s been consistent in how he’s worked and approached the game. He’s not Albert Haynesworth.
Among other linebackers who have received big contracts, Orakpo’s first four full seasons compares favorably in terms of sacks (at least with some of them). In Kansas City’s Tamba Hali’s first four full seasons, he posted 27 sacks (then broke out with 14.5 and got the big deal); Pittsburgh’s LaMarr Woodley had 39 sacks in his first four full seasons; Dallas’ DeMarcus Ware had 53 sacks while Clay Matthews had 42.5, but missed a combined five games. Orakpo had 38.5 sacks in his four full seasons. But as we’ve pointed out in the past, it’s the need to produce more game-changing plays that is a focal point. And it's a valid point.