The Brian Orakpo Dilemma
I had a dream the other night. Scratch that — I had a nightmare. It was 1987, and I was in the ring with Randy “Macho Man” Savage. After being hurled into the turnbuckle, I was distracted by Miss Elizabeth’s gorgeous and vulnerable ringside presence long enough for Macho Man to twist me into a painful arm bar. While writhing in pain, Macho Man promised my freedom only if I told him who I’d like to be if I couldn’t be a sportswriter. I said the first thing that came to my desperate mind: Brian Orakpo’s agent.
What? Lame answer?
I couldn’t say I wanted to be Brian Orakpo (no matter how much cooler that would be) — I’d never pass for him. My body fat has never been that low, my voice isn’t that cool and I would have a hard time intimidating a class of kindergartners, much less an NFL left tackle. However, put me in a suit, slick back my hair, permanently affix a smart phone to my hand and I’m an instant NFL agent (at least in look).
Did the nightmare really happen? No. Do I occasionally dream about Macho Man, Miss Elizabeth and Brian Orakpo? Maybe. Okay, so fictional dream aside, the broader point is absolute fact: it is a good time to be Brian Orakpo’s agent. Orakpo is entering the fifth and final year of his rookie deal, and he is slated for a big payday — from the Washington Redskins or another suitor (and there would be many if ‘Rak hits free agency). Orakpo, 27, is in the prime of his career, and is the most valuable defensive commodity in the NFL: an edge pass rusher. Baseball teams are enamored with lefties with 95 MPH fastballs and wicked sliders. NBA teams lust for height (because you can’t teach it). NFL General Managers seek elite quarterbacks and players that can disrupt elite quarterbacks. Guys like Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware, Clay Matthews, Aldon Smith and Jason Pierre-Paul — Orakpo clones — are the NFL’s defensive rock stars.
That all translates into a whole bunch of negotiating leverage and a healthy commission for Orakpo’s agent. Orakpo will get his money; the question is when and from whom. It would seem ludicrous for Washington to let its most talented defender play out his deal, potentially hit free agency and bolt town. However, unlike those aforementioned pass rushers, Orakpo presents the ‘Skins with quite the dilemma. First, he’s just not as good as Miller, Ware, Matthews, Smith or Pierre-Paul. Orakpo has only one double-digit sack season (2009) on his resume, and his limited repertoire of pass rush moves hasn’t evolved. Back to the baseball pitching analogy: While his elite peers possess Cy Young worthy “stuff,” Orakpo’s little more than a one-trick flamethrower. More concerning is Orakpo ended the last two seasons on injured reserve with essentially the same injury: a torn pectoral muscle. In a sport of limited financial resources and high rates of annual attrition, no team can afford to have big dollars tied up in unavailable talent.
The question before the ‘Skins is whether to swallow the risk and ink Orakpo to an extension now or allow his rookie deal to expire and deal with “The Orakpo Dilemma” in the offseason. The benefit of signing Orakpo immediately is he could be on sale. Considering his injury history and the violence of his profession, Orakpo may be willing to accept a deal slightly below market value. The risk, of course, is that balky pec explodes again or another major joint is compromised. However, waiting until the end of the season could add a Joe Flacco-type premium to his asking price. Orakpo will be plenty motivated to turn in a career year. If he were to play 16 games and record a sack total comfortably into the teens, he could break the bank or price himself beyond Washington’s reach. What to do … what to do?
My advice? Assuming he is willing to deal, I say pay the man. Is he going to challenge the single-season sack record? No chance. Is he going to pick off a key pass and turn it into a pick-six? Doubtful (his zero career interceptions stand witness to his hands of stone). But is Orakpo their best defensive talent at one of the most important positions on the football field? Will his presence make everyone around him better? Will rewarding Orakpo — a drafted, hard-working and professional talent — send the right message and further distance the ‘Skins from the Daniel Snyder circus that presumably ended with the hiring of Mike Shanahan and General Manager Bruce Allen? Yes, yes and yes.
That settles the debate and justifies the risk of signing Orakpo long-term. Geez, I sound like his agent. On second thought, maybe I really did have that dream. If a commission check shows up, I’ll greet it with a hearty, “Oh yeeeah.”