The sacks weren’t enough. He needed game-changers. If he got 10 sacks in a season, it needed to be 11 or 12. If he finished a season strong like in 2013, it was because other teams were “playing out the string.” Good years should have been very good, and very good years needed to be great. That about sums up Brian Orakpo's six seasons with the Washington Redskins.
It just never seemed to be enough. Now that he’s agreed to a deal with Tennessee, his time in Washington is over. His legacy, in the minds of some Redskins fans, will be that of a player who could have done more. But he was considered a good player, very good by some, in Washington -- if you listened to teammates, coaches, scouts, people who study the game. And it’s silly to think otherwise.
The problem is, many hoped he would be elite. It seemed like with just one more move or with more game-changing plays he could have reached that level. Instead, though he recorded 40 sacks in six seasons (he missed a combined 23 games during two seasons), he only forced six fumbles. He intercepted one pass.
That’s a big knock, and it’s one reason there was so much debate last year about using the franchise tag on Orakpo. Coach Jay Gruden wanted more game-changing plays, and last season Orakpo only recorded a half-sack in seven games and nothing more. He had many effective rushes in which he didn’t get home. And then he tore a pectoral muscle for the third time, ending his season and a chance for a big contract this offseason -- especially from the Redskins, who maintained talks with him but were not interested in anything more than a prove-it deal. That was a wise strategy and, if they want another pass-rusher, the draft is full of them. It was time to move on.
The Titans needed a pass-rusher; they handed him a four-year deal worth $32 million with $13.5 million guaranteed (according to Fox Sports). I’d need to see the breakdown of the numbers -- the initial details always look bigger than reality -- but that’s still a good contract for a player in his situation. My concern is the history of torn pectorals. Orakpo said he’s changed the way he trains to help, but is that enough?
Orakpo was a solid player against the run who improved in coverage. His hands were terrible, but in his last couple of seasons in coverage he was not the problem. Orakpo was an all-around linebacker. He’s a hard worker, a passionate player and a respected voice in the locker room. Very professional. I'm not sure any rookie I’ve seen was visibly bothered as much by losing as he was in 2009, but he’s now headed to a team coming off a 2-14 season.
The recurring questions with Orakpo were: How good was he? How good could he be? He worked hard on his game, but did he add to it? Sometimes you’d see a spin move in practice, but not in a game. Usually with him it was about beating players off the edge with speed or driving them back with a bull rush. Coaches say that not every elite rusher has many moves. They looked at more than just sack totals with him, seeing the pressure he applied. Still, you expected a monster season that never came. Meanwhile, Ryan Kerrigan isn’t elite, either, but he keeps improving and is quick to point out how he must improve as a rusher.
Orakpo did consider himself elite, but based on conversations I’ve had with numerous scouts, executives and other players, not many would have agreed. Here’s a good look from two guys I respect greatly: Louis Riddick and Matt Williamson, both of whom have NFL experience. As for the others I've talked to, and there are many: Do they respect him? Yes. Do they think he was good to very good? Yes. Was he elite? If you’re at that level, making an All-Pro team or two is on your résumé and there’s no debate about how much you should receive. It’s one of those things: If you have to ask ...
He was a good, solid player for Washington. However, he’ll probably be more remembered for what he wasn’t.