Updated: March 26, 2014, 1:05 PM ET
John Keim | ESPN.com
ORLANDO, Fla. — The Washington Redskins debated internally before using the franchise tag on Brian Orakpo. Now, if the linebacker is to land a long-term deal from the team, there’s a chance he’ll have to earn it with his performance this season.
Redskins coach Jay Gruden said there’s a desire to “get him here for as many years as we can.” But he also did not sound in a rush to lock up the standout pass-rusher.
“I wouldn’t mind letting him play out this franchise tag and see what happens,” Gruden said. “He’s a talented player. I think he can do a little better, we can ask more of him to where he could be more productive. … We have high hopes for Brian, and whether the deal gets done or not, we know he’ll be a big part of our success” in 2014.
Orakpo, entering his sixth season, has never recorded more than 11 sacks in a season — and that came in his rookie year. He’s also never finished with less than 8.5 sacks in a full season. He’s coming off a 10-sack season, one year after missing 14 regular-season games because of a torn left pectoral muscle.
Orakpo, who still has not signed the franchise tender, had seven sacks in his last seven games last season.
But there was strong debate about whether he was worthy of the $11.45 million franchise tag for outside linebackers. Ultimately, Gruden scanned the landscape.
“Pass-rushers don’t grow on trees, and at the time we weren’t sure what pass-rushers would be available,” said Gruden, who was hired in January to replace the fired Mike Shanahan. “There was still a chance for Seattle to franchise [Michael] Bennett. So we thought it was very important to take care of one of our own who we groomed and coached up, and we’re happy with Brian.”
The Redskins want the defense to get more pressure on opposing quarterbacks, and not just from Orakpo. They signed defensive lineman Jason Hatcher in free agency, potentially giving them an interior presence that was missing the past two seasons.
They also want to vary their defensive fronts more and not have Orakpo drop as much into coverage. Washington hired an outside linebackers coach, Brian Baker, who will help in the pass-rush aspect.
“We want to get Brian rushing more than he has in the past, especially on third down,” Gruden said. “Turn him loose, meaning also that when he has his hand down and he’s rushing, he needs to rush. There’s sometimes he’s just peeking around and not getting up the field. Brian Baker … will help him out quite a bit.
“But [Orakpo] has the talent to get home. That’s why we franchised him. He has the speed, he has the strength, and those are two variables you have to have as a pass-rusher. We have to get them going as far as letting him rush and be himself.”Covered the Redskins for the Washington Examiner and other media outlets since 1994
Authored or co-authored three books on the Redskins and one on the Cleveland Browns