- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 4, 2015

Roy Helu removed the game balls, the cleats, the supplements and other items from his locker early last week, turning and carefully placing each into two large, clear, plastic sacks pulled open at his feet.

There was a chance that he may never step into the locker room at Redskins Park again, and if that ends up happening, the running back wanted to make sure all of his belongings were with him.

Helu is one of 17 players whose contracts with the Redskins will expire in March, leaving them to face uncertain futures. Playing professionally in Washington is all Helu has ever known — but, considering the Redskins have had just one winning season in his four years with the team, he’d be interested in exploring whatever opportunities may be presented elsewhere.

“I’m very excited, because it’s the first time I’ve gone into an offseason where I guess I get to see what else is out there and I’m not restricted to a rookie pay scale,” Helu said. “There’s great possibilities out there that I’ll probably look into for the benefit of my family’s future.

“But, at the same time, I had a great experience these last four years. If I’m back, that’d be amazing. It’s two parties that would have to get together and have a common goal in mind.”

Some players, such as wide receiver Santana Moss and free safety Ryan Clark, have been playing the game for more than a decade and understand that this season may have been their last. Others, such as strong safety Duke Ihenacho and cornerback Justin Rogers, were bit players brought in to fill a void created because of injury.

But a good number of the pending free agents will have decent cases to state for sticking around. Aside from Helu and except for Ryan Kerrigan — who, as a first-round pick, had an option year written into his deal — the contracts of defensive end Jarvis Jenkins, wide receiver Leonard Hankerson, tight end Niles Paul and nose tackle Chris Neild, the four other members remaining from the 2011 draft class, will expire.

Jenkins, taken in the second round that year, has started 33 games for the Redskins after missing his entire rookie season after tearing the ACL in his right knee. Frequently pressed into a starting role because of the lack of starting depth along the defensive line, Jenkins has been a virtual non-factor as a pass rusher, tallying just two sacks during his career.

Understanding that, Jenkins said he put additional pressure on himself as the season wound to a close to play better, knowing the impact greater statistics could have during contract negotiations.

“These guys here could love me and want me to stay a little longer, which I hope, but the business part of it, that’s part of the game,” Jenkins said. “I’m just gonna go through it and hope for the best for me and my family.”

The greatest uncertainties will revolve around the status of quarterback Colt McCoy and outside linebacker Brian Orakpo — though for very different reasons.

McCoy, signed to a one-year contract last April to serve as the Redskins’ third quarterback, ended up starting four games and played admirably before a pinched nerve in his neck cost him the final two games.

He originally signed with the Redskins because he wanted the chance to play for coach Jay Gruden, and he has made it clear he would love to be able to do so again.

Orakpo, meanwhile, was handed the franchise tag last year, earning a one-year salary for $11.455 million, and played in just seven games before tearing his right pectoral in a victory over Tennessee on Oct. 19. It was the third time in his six-year career he’s torn one of the two muscles.

Unlike last season, when Orakpo elaborated frequently about his desire for a long-term, big-money contract with the Redskins, the outside linebacker remained mum on his plans last week. He generally avoided speaking to reporters when he stopped by the locker room to gather his belongings, hoping not to be asked about his future.

When he was, he clammed up.

“That’s the question,” Orakpo said, shaking his head before departing.

Three players — kicker Kai Forbath, right tackle Tom Compton and Ihenacho, who played in just three games before breaking his right foot — are eligible for restricted free agency, which means the Redskins can match whatever contract offer they receive elsewhere.

The contracts of strong safeties Brandon Meriweather and Trenton Robinson, right tackle Tyler Polumbus and cornerback E.J. Biggers are also set to expire when the new league year begins on March 10.

All told, general manager Bruce Allen said last week that he expects the Redskins to have approximately $20 million in salary cap space to spend on players next season, and the roster turnover, especially after Washington won just four games under a first-year head coach, could be great.

That makes the situation uncertain for a player like Helu, who believes he can shoulder the responsibility of playing on every down for some team in the league. He has never had an extended run as that type of player during his four seasons, and surely wouldn’t receive that kind of opportunity in Washington, with Alfred Morris entrenched as the top running back.

“But, we’ll see if other organizations feel the same or not,” Helu said. “Those are just some conditions I have to consider — if they even arise, you know?”

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