There is a major debate going on in the Redskins fan community (and apparently Redskins Park) about whether or not to retain ROLB Brian Orakpo or let him test free agent waters. While there could be a chance that Orakpo would come back if he hit unrestricted free agency, the reality is that he would be the premier unrestricted free agent and would have a very robust market. Orakpo plays the all important right side (from a defensive perspective) pass rusher, that is generally considered to be the 2nd or 3rd most important position on an entire team. It’s not a spot that you can really afford to go “cheap” on and rely on a stopgap situation. Frankly I believe letting Brian Orakpo test free agency is one of the worst free agent decisions that this team could make, and hopefully this article will be moot as the team will reach an agreement with Orakpo or apply the Franchise tag. If the Redskins don’t retain Orakpo for next season, it’s important to look at what options there might be to replace him. If there isn’t a suitable option to replace him then it should make your decision pretty easy. Let’s see what options there are to replace Orakpo if the Redskins decide to let him walk in free agency:
-This is far-fetched, but I’ve seen it mentioned and wanted to quickly dismiss the notion. Jenkins has some pass rushing potential, but he was a 5th round pick last year and played all of 41 snaps on defense last year (mainly on the left side). He is not a reasonable option to replace Orakpo as a starter.
-Another popular notion is Rob Jackson taking over the role. There are a few things wrong with that idea. In 2012 when Orakpo missed most the season, Jackson wasn’t a good enough pass rusher and needed to platoon with Lorenzo Alexander. It’s the most important position on defense and you can’t expect to platoon the position and be successful for a season. As a back-up option that is one thing, but that can’t be the starting option. Jackson just isn’t a good enough pass rusher, and his value with the interceptions is way overblown. Rush linebackers aren’t judged on their coverage skills, and there is no guarantee that Jackson could repeat that performance. Finally Jackson is a free agent himself, if he’s going to sign for a starting role at the premium position, it will increase his contract value. He will still come in far less than Orakpo, but is paying Jackson $4-5 million a year for subpar production a good idea?
-This is by far the most popular internal option, but I’m not sure it makes much sense. When Orakpo was injured in 2012, Kerrigan rarely rushed from the right side, so it’s not clear the team believes he could do it full time. Also, if the team (and the fanbase) is concerned about Orakpo’s production from the right side, is Kerrigan really the guy to fix that? In Orakpo’s three healthy seasons as a rush linebacker he’s got 27.5 sacks in 46 games going up primarily against left tackles. Ryan Kerrigan in his career has gotten 24.5 sacks in 48 games going up against right tackles. He’s not likely to improve on that production without the threat of Orakpo opposite him and now going up against a more talented offensive lineman. The Kerrigan/Orakpo split in production is probably even more noticeable when taking a look at how they did per snap:
Over their last three full seasons here is their sack and pressure production from Pro Football Focus (note: PFF counts half sacks as full sacks for grading an individual’s performance so not to penalize a player since another player did their job as well)
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Orakpo: 1,196 pass rush snaps, 29 sacks, 129 additional pressures: Sack Rate: 2.4% Additional Pressure Rate: 10.8% Sack or Pressure rate: 13.2%
Kerrigan: 1,481 pass rush snaps, 27 sacks, 150 additional pressures: Sack Rate: 1.8% Additional Pressure Rate: 10.1% Sack or Pressure rate: 11.95%
So despite nearly 300 additional pass rushes, Kerrigan has 2 fewer sacks and just 21 additional pressures, despite facing the weaker competition. Now the difference in the percentages looks pretty small, but it can have a big impact in numbers that shows up better when you normalize the pass rush snaps. Here are their 1 and 3 year totals based on an average of 450 pass rush snaps a year:
Orakpo: 1 year: 10.8 sacks, 48.6 pressures | 3 year total: 32.4 sacks, 145.8 pressures
Kerrigan: 1 year: 8.1 sacks, 45.45 pressures | 3 year total: 24.3 sacks, 136.35 pressures
As you can see we start to see a pretty noticeable difference here particularly when looking at the 3 year total.
Not getting to the quarterback enough is the reason why people and the team is apparently okay with letting Orakpo walk, but Kerrigan figures to do so at a worse rate. It’s clear that Kerrigan’s current production isn’t good enough for the role, and with him facing off versus left tackles it’s likely that production takes a further hit. In addition to seeing the drop off in production from their right side pass rusher, the Redskins would also be in danger of seeing a drop off from the left side as well. In just breaking down Kerrigan’s production it is clear that it is pretty good, it’s jut not on the level of Brian Orakpo. If the Redskins move Kerrigan over they will need someone to replace that level of production from the left side. The Redskins can’t expect Brandon Jenkins or Rob Jackson to produce on Kerrigan’s level (either by themselves or as a platoon). They could maybe find a rookie replacement, but there is no guarantee (more on that later) and the Redskins would be pretty much locked in to using their 2nd round pick on the position. If you move Kerrigan over to the right side you are in serious danger of weakening two spots, both at very important positions on defense. This is likely the reason why the Redskins didn’t move Kerrigan to the right side when Orakpo was injured in 2012. They knew that the sum effect of the move was actually worse than just playing back-ups in Orakpo’s spot.