Outside Linebacker is an area of the team that was supposed to be locked down after drafting Ryan Kerrigan in 2011, and with another Pro Bowl 1st Round Pick in Brian Orakpo. Now there is a giant question mark hanging over the position as the Redskins front office (over)thinks the decision to use the franchise tag on Orakpo. The Redskins have a long history of not retaining their own players, particularly 1st Round picks. Will Orakpo be allowed to test free agency, and almost certainly be one of the highest paid free agents this year in a weak rush linebacker group?
There are two other pending free agents at the position who have also not been offered new contracts. Rob Jackson spent the first 4 games of the season suspended for violating the NFL's Substance Abuse Policy. He played 18.1% of the defensive snaps for the season, and started in Week 17 when Orakpo was out with a groin injury. Jackson saw significant playing time as a starter after Orakpo was injured in Week 2 last season, and made several significant interceptions down the stretch. Darryl Tapp signed a 1 year deal to be a backup OLB last offseason and only played 8.1% of all defensive snaps. Combined, Jackson and Tapp had 29 tackles, 3 sacks and 1 INT last season. If Orakpo is allowed to walk, one or both of them could be re-signed for depth/spot starters next year.
The only other viable option on the roster is 2nd year player Brandon Jenkins who was drafted last year in the 5th round. In the preseason, Doc Walker dubbed the packaged plays Jenkins was involved in as the Nasty Nickel with Ryan Kerrigan moving inside and Jenkins rushing from the outside. This worked fine against vanilla offenses, but when the regular season rolled around, Jenkins was only used on 39 defensive snaps. He showed that he has a lot of work to do to be a consistent player in this league.
The other option is looking to the draft, but without a 1st round pick, your chances of getting an outside linebacker who can make an impact immediately are very small. You have to draft one high, or hope to hit the lottery late. Either way, a veteran linebacker will have to be brought in to start and to guide the young players. Brian Orakpo is obviously the top option available, but if someone swoops in and signs him to massive deal, who are the other available options? Yesterday, Steve Shoup listed some of the options available.
Outside Linebacker Options:
1. Jason Worilds, Pittsburgh Steelers
Height: 6' 2"
Weight: 262 lbs
Jason Worilds is going to generate a lot of interest and questions when the free agent market opens in less than two weeks. He has been with the Steelers for 4 seasons but has not been a full-time starter. This season he started 11 games and got 8 sacks on 378 pass rush attempts for an average of 47.3 rushes per sack. For comparison, Brian Orakpo had 10 sacks on 375 pass rushes for an average of 37.5 rushes per sack. He is considered a versatile, young, rising pass rusher who will get paid for his potential after a good showing this year. With the expected level of interest from various teams, Worilds will not be cheap. Teams will have to weigh his past production vs his future potential. Worilds is praying that Rak gets the tag today, making him the top young option on the market.
2. Michael Johnson, Cincinnati Bengals
Weight: 270 lbs
Johnson is an interesting option because he has history on a Jay Gruden team, but also because he's played Defensive End for the Bengals and would be converting to OLB to replace Rak. Can Johnson handle all the responsibilities of a standup LB who will have to drop into coverage? Will Haslett use him in the same way as Orakpo, or will the defense shift towards more 4 man fronts with the addition of Johnson? Does Jim Haslett embrace the Haze? Johnson had 11.5 sacks in 2012, but only got 3.5 last season. Johnson will not be cheap, but will be cheaper than the deal Orakpo is expected to receive. Johnson is great against the run, and rushed from the right side. It's a risky signing due to the change in position, money involved, and the drop in production last season.
3. Shaun Phillips, Denver Broncos
Height: 6' 3"
Weight: 255 lbs
The oldest option on this list at 32 years old, Phillips would definitely be a short term stop gap player at the position. He signed a 1 year deal with the Broncos last offseason and had 10 sacks, 35 tackles and an INT. He's spent a lot of his career as a standup LB and would be able to step right in to the Redskins defense and offer veteran leadership and experience. But he will probably need to be spelled with another player, and is not going to be more than a 2 year fix to a long term problem at one of the most important positions on the defense.
4. Marcus Benard, Arizona Cardinals
Weight: 260 lbs
Marcus Benard is technically a Restricted Free Agent, but he has not been tendered yet by the Cardinals, and could become available for a reasonable contract either way. He spent his first 3 season on the Browns, so he is familiar with new Redskins, and former Browns OLB coach Brian Baker. Benard signed a 1 year deal with the Cardinals after missing the entire 2012 season due to injury. In 2010 he recorded 7.5 sacks in 15 games active with 2 starts. Last season he was active for 11 games with only 1 start, but he had 3.5 sacks on only 142 pass rushes for an average of 40.6 rushes per sack. He also had 10 QB knockdowns which is one less than Orakpo had last season on far less rushes. He is going to be a cheap, situational guy, and a possible rotational/backup replacement for the role Daryl Tapp played.
5. Brian Orakpo, Washington Redskins
Weight: 257 lbs
Orakpo was a 1st round pick for the Redskins in 2009 and has made the Pro Bowl in 3 out of his 5 seasons. Last season, he returned from a second torn pectoral muscle injury and put up 10 sacks, 60 tackles, a Pick 6, and was top 10 in total pressure by a 3-4 OLB. Speculation swirls as to why the Washington Redskins did not franchise him, but that gives Bruce Allen and the Washington Redskins a great opportunity to swoop in and sign him away. There should be heavy competition for Orakpo's services, but the Redskins have never shied away from a bidding war. If anyone can replace the production of Brian Orakpo for the Redskins in 2014, it is definitely free agent Brian Orakpo. Nothing says offseason championship like signing one of the top free agents available.