Height/weight: 6'4, 257 pounds
Previous Position: 3-4 right outside linebacker (Washington Redskins)
2014 Pass Rushing Statistics: 1 sack, 6 hits, 12 hurries in 179 pass rushes (90% right side)
Brian Orakpo was the 13th overall pick out of Texas in the 2009 NFL Draft. In six seasons with the Redskins, Orakpo has had four seasons with at least 8.5 sacks. The other two were cut short by pectoral injuries. In Week 17 of the 2011 season, Orakpo suffered a minor tear in his left pectoral muscle. The same muscle tore completely in Week 2 of the 2012 season. Then, in Week 7 of the 2014 season, Orakpo tore his right pectoral muscle.
This interesting injury history is the main reason that the Redskins are moving on from Orakpo. The team had even franchise-tagged Orakpo before the 2014 season, costing them $11.455 million. Orakpo was interested in re-signing with the team, but it appears that the two sides were too far apart in settling contract numbers. Yesterday, NBC Washington's Dianna Marie Russini reported that Orakpo "will not be back" with the Redskins.
Two teams in need of a pass rusher are now going after Orakpo. The Jacksonville Jagaurs "are very interested" in signing him, while the Atlanta Falcons are interested as well. But, the market for Orakpo has a ceiling because of his recurring pectoral injuries. He's only played in half of the Redskins' 48 games during the last three seasons. This will likely scare off some teams, but the player behind the injuries can't be ignored completely.
In 2013, Orakpo had 11 sacks, 11 hits, and 29 hurries. He ranked 9th out of 41 qualifying 3-4 outside linebackers. Rewind to 2011 and Orakpo fared even better. His 10 sacks, 6 hits, and 41 hurries helped him place 6th out of 31 linebackers that season. Essentially, when on the field, he's been a very productive player.
Some team in the league will take the gamble on Orakpo. The Jaguars and Falcons are desperate to add an established pass rusher to the team. Other teams may be in play as well. When Orakpo was asked to list an NFL team that might interest him if money weren't a factor, he listed the two Texas teams, Houston and Dallas.
Estimating the money that Orakpo might get in his new contract is hard, due to his unique situation. Before his third pectoral injury, OverTheCap.com estimated that Orakpo might sign a 4-year, $41.5 million contract. But, after a third pectoral injury, it's clear that there's a significant amount of risk with signing Orakpo. The guaranteed money in his contract might be very low, so his contract numbers may be very deceiving.
Orakpo's annual cap hit could be anywhere in the $7-10 million range, but without a lot of guaranteed money. Therefore, that annual number is just fluff. If Orakpo is guaranteed a certain amount of money over two years, and he's not producing up to the value of the annual contract, the team would probably cut him after two years.
It's impossible to project with any certainty, but the uncertainty at least puts Orakpo within the range of the Bengals' budget. It's nearly impossible that the Bengals would offer over $8 million per year to an outside free agent (since that's what they offered to both of their own, Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap). But it's feasible they could strike a deal with a player in the $5-7 million annual range. Considering Orakpo will receive low guaranteed money in an offer from any team, he's definitely a possible target for the Bengals.
Orakpo only played in seven games in 2014 and wasn't very productive getting to the passer. He sacked the quarterback one time.
This play was more of a coverage sack. Orakpo (#98) rushes from the right outside linebacker spot. He's left one-on-one with the Jaguar's fullback, only 5'11 and weights only 247 pounds. The Washington linebacker stacks him up and powers him for a true hustle sack. It's a poor play design to have your fullback block the outside linebacker on a seven step drop. A smarter, experienced quarterback would have thrown the ball away in this scenario.
On the next series, Orakpo shows that he's still a force to be reckoned with in the run game. The Jaguars' tight end is supposed to seal the backside by blocking Orakpo, but the tight end completely whiffs. This lets Orakpo crash down on Toby Gerhart and stop him behind the line of scrimmage. Orakpo shows great awareness here, crashing down on an inside run and making a big, physical tackle.
In Week 5, Orakpo made a couple nice stops in run defense but only had one pressure all game. That play is shown below. Orakpo is able to turn the corner on Russell Okung, and would have had a sack or hit on the quarterback, if he wasn't being held by Okung. The hold is called on this play.
Our own Joe Goodberry filmed the above clip, and he makes the point that he hasn't seen enough of Orakpo's athleticism. Orakpo's athleticism occasionally flashes, but he simply wasn't getting pressures often enough in his most recent season. He had many rushes like the one below, where his bull rush is relatively stopped by the Cardinals' Jared Veldheer. Orakpo gets close to the quarterback, but he doesn't have the brute power to get past Veldheer and bring down Carson Palmer, who gets the ball away for a completion.
On the play below, Orakpo is able to get by Veldheer with an outside speed rush. He bends around the corner and is able to get a hit on Palmer as he throws. These types of plays were Orakpo's best pass rushes in the 2014 season. Essentially, he is relatively quiet as a rusher for most of the game, but he gets close to the quarterback a few times. This production is all too similar to what the Bengals have gotten out their own pass rushers recently. Carlos Dunlap, Geno Atkins, and Wallace Gilberry all have decent numbers when it comes to hits and hurries, but their sack numbers should be higher. They aren't finishing. Orakpo, too, has this problem as of late.
One of Orakpo's best rushes of the 2014 season came in his last game, Week 7 against the Tennessee Titans. Orakpo dodged the chip from the Titans' running back and ended up to the inside. The left tackle, Taylor Lewan, expected Orakpo to rush inside and began to brace himself, but Orakpo juked back to the right and easily got past Lewan's left shoulder. The quarterback was able to get the ball away because the move took a little too long to set up, but this play shows Orakpo's quick twitch athletic ability.
Watching only 2014 plays didn't feel like a fair judgment of Orakpo, so I went back to his 2013 season when he was ranked as one of the best pass rushers in the league. Against the Giants in Week 13, Orakpo made many impact plays and earned one of the best Pro Football Focus grades of his career (+6.3). On the play below, Orakpo got his second sack of the game. He burst up field as the ball was snapped, showing his speed and explosiveness. He converted this speed to power with a bull rush that completely overwhelmed the Giants' left tackle Will Beatty.
This type of athletic ability is the reason that Orakpo is certainly a coveted free agent this offseason. Orakpo was the 13th overall pick only six years ago, and he still flashes that ability in recent games. The Falcons and Jaguars have already shown much interest in pursuing him, but with his scary injury history, the Bengals should be in play for Orakpo as well. He might not get signed right away in free agency, as he probably will get offered a lower amount of guaranteed money than expected. It's more likely that another team chooses to overpay Orakpo, but he's certainly on the Bengals' short list as a productive pass rusher from the right side who should be within the team's budget.