In part 1 the focus was on the internal options and showing the importance of having a guy succeed on the right side of the line as it is the most important position on defense and arguably the 2nd most important position on a team outside of the quarterback. There wasn’t a strong internal fit that made sense for the Redskins, but what about finding a guy in free agency or in the draft? Here are the options the Redskins could have to choose from:
-Johnson has a lot going for him from a free agent perspective. He’s young, just turning 27 years old last month. He’s considered a very good run defender, he’s a right side rusher, and he had an 11.5 sack season two years ago. Despite that there are a number of questions with him as well. Johnson fell into the 3rd round of the 2009 draft due to some maturity and work ethic concerns. Will his play fall off when he signs a big contract, is a fair question that a lot of people have with him. His first three seasons as a situational pass rusher and starter, Johnson’s production was pretty average. In that time he combined for just 11.5 sacks and around 55 pressures in over 1,000 pass rush snaps. He broke out in 2012 with his 11.5 sack season and over 40 pressures, but he dropped off this past year in the sack department. Though Johnson had 56 pressures (in over 500 pass rushes) he manged just a paltry 3.5 sacks. The biggest question surrounding Johnson is whether or not he can stand up in a 3-4. He’s played his entire career as a 4-3 DE, and while former Bengals DC Mike Zimmer apparently toyed with a hybrid system one year, it never really made the field. Johnson could end up being a liability and a potential free agent bust if the Redskins sign him and his production drops off due to the position change. Another key factor is Johnson’s salary. Johnson might not get Orakpo money, but remember he’s coming from a defensive end position, a spot that gets paid higher on average than outside linebackers. Even coming off the disappointing sack total this year, Johnson will likely find himself a pay day between $9-10 million, and that could be a conservative estimate. The Skins might end up only saving $1-2 million a year at best.
-Worilds is a guy a lot of fans want to point to (probably due to the fact that he went to Virginia Tech), but he doesn’t exactly have the career to back up the assertion that he could be a viable replacement for Orakpo. Worilds was the Steelers 2nd round pick in 2010, and really didn’t due much to justify the draft position his first three years with the Steelers. Worilds dealt with a host of injuries in his first two years (Hamstring, Knee, Quad and Wrist) that all limited his time on the field and in practice to develop. He’s been relatively healthy these past two years, and had a breakout season in 2013 with 8 sacks and 42 pressures in 378 pass rushes. While some see him as an ascending pass rusher, he’s still behind Brian Orakpo in terms of talent and production. While he’s rushed from the right side some, about two thirds of his pass rushes this year came from the left side. He might be young, but he’s a player who’s only had a small sample size of success, has an injury history, and hasn’t proven he can be the blind-side rusher fulltime. Despite all that Worilds will probably command a contract north of Paul Kruger‘s 5 years $40 million.
-Phillips signed a 1 year prove it deal with the Broncos last season for $1.4 million and he rewarded them with a 10 sack year playing defensive end. Phillips has had a long successful career as a rush linebacker before coming to Denver (though his production was lower than Orakpo’s), so you know he can rush standing up. Phillips though would probably be more of a part-time player at this point since you probably wouldn’t want him in coverage. The Redskins could maybe consider a Rob Jackson platoon with Phillips, but that becomes problematic from a financial standpoint. Phillips given his age (he will be 33 next year), won’t command Orakpo money, but will probably be looking for a 2-3 year deal averaging between $5-6 million a year. Jackson is probably going to want at least $4 million, so you could be looking at $9-10 million for the platoon. It also clearly wouldn’t be a long term option so the Redskins would have to invest heavily in the position in the coming years.
-Spencer is the Cowboys former 1st round pick in 2006. For much of his career he was either non-descript to solid, but he had a breakout year in 2012 with a 11 sack performance (prior to that he had just 21.5 sacks in 5 years). Spencer got hurt last year in camp and had to undergo mircofracture surgery. Given that and the fact that he’s 30, he’s likely looking for a 1 year deal in the $5-6 million range. While that is cheaper than Orakpo (though the actual 2014 cap hit will probably be similar), Spencer represents a risk. If he either can’t come back from the injury or his production is down (or say back to his 2011 and prior levels), then it is a waste of money for the Redskins. If Spencer does have a great year, then the Redskins will be in the boat of having to extend their ROLB long term next year on a big money deal. Except he’ll be older, a higher injury risk and have less of a track record. While Spencer did rush some from the right side with the Cowboys since Dallas was known to swap pass spots some, most of Spencer’s time rushing the quarterback has come off the left side.
-Pace has been a solid player throughout his career and he notched his first double digit sack season (10), last year at the age of 33. The 10 sacks were the most since 2009 when he tallied 8 sacks, so the production is not likely to be there with Pace. In addition to being 34 next year, Pace has some other question marks (to go along with the lack of career production). He’s been primarily a left side pass rusher, and he benefits from playing behind arguably the most talented front 3 in the league. With the Redskins he wouldn’t have that benefit and would have to face off with more left tackles. Likely his production would drop significantly. Pace obviously isn’t a long term fix and despite the question marks will probably be looking for $5 million a year for 2-3 years.
-Neal was drafted as a 5 technique out of Purdue in 2010. Injuries and ineffectiveness plagued his early career, and last year the Packers asked him to cut weight to transition to a rush linebacker/situational pass rusher role. Neal got down to the 270 range and made the switch. Neal had 5 sacks and 41 pressures in about 400 pass rush snaps. The sacks were a little low, but it’s easy to like the promise that Neal brings in this role. The question though is can he be asked for a more expanded role? The Packers rarely allowed him to drop into coverage, and given his background it’s not likely he would be any good at the role. Neal has rushed mainly from the left side and his sample size as an edge rusher is pretty small, but the Redskins could consider him an upside play and look for a platoon partner. If they go the Jackson/Neal platoon route you are again talking a good chunk of money to sign both players, as Neal could see offers in the $5-5.5 million range.
In Part 3 tomorrow I’ll look at some draft options, but it’s clear that there isn’t a single free agent option who can bring the level of production of Brian Orakpo and that is just from a basic outlook, before even really accounting for which side they are rushing from or their production per snap. While it is true that all of these options will be cheaper than Brian Orakpo, given the way the market is the savings will likely won’t be what people are hoping for. Johnson and Worilds at best will save $2-3 million a year, but it could end up being smaller than that. Phillips, Spencer and Pace will be cheaper, but will only be a 1-2 year fix at best, and even then their production won’t be on par with Orakpo. Mike Neal is an upside option who will be cheaper, but he carries plenty of risk as well. Even though Orakpo is the most expensive option, he’s the best combination of age, potential, production, consistency and most importantly the ability to handle the position. Looking at the free agent market, it makes signing him even to a deal north of $11 million a year (which is far from certain at this point), seem like the best option.