The Washington Redskins picked up Ryan Kerrigan’s 5th year option this past week, ensuring that their 2011 first round pick will be under team control through at least 2015. Now this was a no brainer decision for the Redskins, as Kerrigan has been pretty productive in his three seasons in DC, and the 5th year option carries a price tag of about $7 million dollars, which is likely less than what he’d cost on the open market. The Redskins though shouldn’t just stop there with the 5th year option, and should instead look to extend him long term.
This is the first season that teams can extend contracts of players drafted in the 2011 draft, and the Redskins should take advantage of that ability to lock up one of their better young players for the foreseeable future. Kerrigan is a perfect candidate for an extension as he has given the Redskins quality production from the left outside linebacker spot since the day he was drafted. He’s been a strong pass rusher, who has put up solid sack numbers, but really makes his presence felt with pressures and quarterback hits. Kerrigan has also shown a knack for making a big play when it is needed. He’s become a nice complementary player to top pass rusher Brian Orakpo, and held his own in 2012 when Orakpo was injured.
While Kerrigan has been a productive player and is a quality starter, he’s also shown pretty clearly what his ceiling is, giving the Redskins a really good understanding of what they are getting themselves into in a long term contract. Kerrigan for all his strengths is clearly never going to be a top 10 pass rusher, and he looks to be set as a left side pass rusher. He’s not a guy who looks like he could move to the right side and replace Brian Orakpo long term. In fact when Orakpo was injured in 2012 the Redskins kept Kerrigan at LOLB, to ensure that he didn’t have to pass better pass blockers going up against left tackles. Kerrigan also is only average against the run and isn’t that strong in coverage, though those skills are secondary in importance to his pass rush ability.
The fact that Kerrigan will never be an elite player or be able to man the more important position at ROLB, lowers his value to the Redskins, but it doesn’t make much of a difference about whether or not the Redskins should lock him up long term. All it means is it gives the Redskins a good price point for what they should pay him. Kerrigan’s production and position suggest he should be in the $7-9 million range for an annual average. Given his production in three straight seasons, overall health and age, he would probably be more in the top end of that range, which is why the 5th year option was a no brainer for the Redskins. Given that they know the price range, the Redskins should look to work out a long term deal to lock him up through 2019 or even 2020 (4 or 5 years on top of the control they already have).
The Redskins should lock up Kerrigan now for two main reasons: cost/position certainty and cost control. One of the toughest things for NFL teams to do is to plan their long term payroll and how it will relate to the salary cap. So many things can change from year to year, from the salary demands of particular players, to the size of the actual salary cap. Typically extending a player earlier has been a far better proposition for teams, and many top contenders use early extensions as a way to reward their top young talent while putting the team in a better position going forward. With the Redskins needing to lock-up top players like Brian Orakpo, Trent Williams and Robert Griffin III over the next couple of years, it will be good to have a better understanding of what money is already tied up, when they go to negotiate those bigger deals. Also, by knowing that the LOLB position is locked up, it allows the Redskins to understand their long term team needs better, allowing them to have a much better game plan going forward. If the Redskins know they can and will lock-up Orakpo and Kerrigan long term, it completely changes their team needs going forward.
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By signing Kerrigan now the Redskins protect themselves in case Kerrigan sees an increase of production over the next two years. That could occur even if he doesn’t take his game to the next level, as the Redskins seem far more keen on getting after the quarterback this season, which should increase Kerrigan’s opportunities. If Kerrigan goes from averaging roughly 8 sacks a year his first three seasons, to averaging 11 or 12 these next two seasons, when he hits free agency his price tag will surely go up. Kerrigan’s price tag could (and likely will go up) even if his production remains constant. The Salary cap saw a big rise of over $10 million this past season, and it is expected over the next two years to rise a combined $15-20 million more. When the cap raises by that amount of money over just a couple of seasons it’s really going to start to filter down to this level of contracts. Where you could maybe sign Kerrigan for an average of $8-9 million a year now, two seasons from now that could be $9.5-11 million, simply due to the increase in the cap.