Nick Wass/Associated Press
The bloodletting seen around the NFL as teams manage their salary caps has been particularly hard on offensive linemen. Many well-established blockers have had their heads on the chopping block, and more will enter the free-agency pool once the new league year begins Wednesday.
Negative market forces won’t affect certain players, though, starting with the Baltimore Ravens‘ Orlando Brown Jr.
Brown isn’t a free agent, but he’s on the market as the top available tackle under 30 years old after he requested a trade last month, per NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.
Trent Williams remains among the league’s best even at the ripe age of 32, and he’s free to sign with any team next week. But the possibility of acquiring a 24-year-old, two-time Pro Bowl offensive tackle must be tempting to multiple franchises even if it will cost them an early-round draft pick.
Brown is available because of his desire to play left tackle. The 2018 third-round pick, who started his professional career on the right side, took over for Ronnie Stanley after the latter suffered a season-ending ankle injury in Week 8.
Even in a league in which the difference between right and left tackle is negligible, Brown is determined to start somewhere as a team’s blindside protector.
“It’s a situation where Baltimore knows my plan isn’t to play right tackle,” Brown told NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo. “I feel more comfortable on the left side. That’s where I had played my whole life (before joining the Ravens). I’m a better left tackle than right tackle.”
His representation has been looking into trade possibilities for weeks, per ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler. The demand isn’t a power play or strictly a case of an athlete searching for a bigger payday. For Brown, it’s personal.
Orlando Brown Sr. played nine NFL seasons as a right tackle in the ’90s and ’00s. At that time, a clear delineation existed between the two tackle positions, so he made his intentions clear regarding his son.
The three-year veteran told the Baltimore Sun‘s Daniel Oyefusi:
“Growing up in my household, if you were going to play O-line, my dad didn’t want you being on the right side. It was one of those deals where he felt as though the right tackle—and especially at the time when he played—he felt the right tackle was not considered the best tackle on the offensive line and in the offensive line room. And his mentality and approach was, ‘I want you to be better than me.’ So from Day 1, when I started playing offensive line, it was always him working me on the left side.”
While the elder Brown’s perception is somewhat antiquated, his son’s desire to honor his wishes is admirable.
The Ravens are left trying to maximize the offensive lineman’s value with multiple interested suitors. Garafolo reported six teams are already engaged in “ongoing conversations” with Baltimore.
Numerous squads need a left tackle, though a deal has to make sense for the Ravens. The organization likely won’t trade within the division to the Cincinnati Bengals or Pittsburgh Steelers despite their obvious needs. The Kansas City Chiefs, who cut left tackle Eric Fisher and right tackle Mitchell Schwartz on Thursday, desperately require offensive line upgrades.
But why would the Ravens help another Super Bowl contender? Spoiler alert: They won’t.
The following six options may not be the teams that showed the most interest, but they’re the most logical landing spots for Brown.
Michael Conroy/Associated Press
The Indianapolis Colts and Los Angeles Chargers have a more immediate need at left tackle than the Jaguars. At the same time, the Colts and Chargers are much closer to contention. As such, Jacksonville is the only AFC franchise included, since it’s the furthest away from threatening Baltimore’s title chances. Congratulations, you just made the list.
One hurdle stands in the way, though. Jacksonville made the befuddling move to place the franchise tag on left tackle Cam Robinson after four years of inconsistent play. Granted, Robinson is 25 years old with 47 career starts. However, Jacksonville isn’t locked into him yet.
Urban Meyer saw firsthand what Brown, who played at Oklahoma, could do while serving as the head coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes. Furthermore, the Jaguars’ new defensive coordinator, Joe Cullen, spent the previous five seasons with the Ravens. A familiarity exists.
If the Jaguars, who own 11 picks in this year’s draft, swing a deal for Brown, they can simply rescind Robinson’s franchise tag before he signs the tender or bump him inside to guard.
Ted S. Warren/Associated Press
Dan Patrick relayed that the team’s management was “not happy with Russell Wilson and his camp” for going public with his displeasure.
The best way to reconcile these differences is by making a major investment in the team’s front five.
Duane Brown, 35, protects Wilson’s blind side. The four-time Pro Bowler remains a quality blocker, but he has only one year remaining on his deal, and the organization can save $11 million with his release. The Seahawks must acknowledge the realities of the situation: Wilson is upset with his protection.
Orlando Brown’s acquisition could be the start of a complete overhaul and Wilson’s appeasement.
4. Los Angeles Rams
Kyusung Gong/Associated Press
The Rams always seem to operate without financial flexibility or assets to make a deal. Yet, miraculously, the franchise always makes moves.
The team doesn’t own a first-round pick until 2024. Seriously. But L.A. does have second- and third-round selections to offer for a quality offensive tackle.
Baltimore’s potential asking price might be an obstacle, yet the Rams must pursue the possibility since Andrew Whitworth turns 40 later this year. Los Angeles can save $7 million by designating the 15-year veteran a post-June 1 cut. Brown’s salary is $3.4 million. Every little bit helps a team still well in the red.
Maybe Joseph Noteboom will take over for Whitworth eventually. Brown is a superior option, though.
Bruce Kluckhohn/Associated Press
Well, the Vikings need a new left tackle after they released Riley Reiff on Wednesday. In fact, the entire left side of their offensive front must be rebuilt.
Ezra Cleveland, a 2020 second-rounder, could move back to left tackle. But Cleveland found a home at right guard last season.
Otherwise, the Vikings have next to no left tackle options.
Schematically, Brown is interesting because he’s not necessarily an ideal fit in the Vikings’ wide-zone system. The young lineman does an outstanding job of working his angles and using his 6’8″, 345-pound size and length to his advantage.
At the same time, he’s not an elite athlete. Asking him to consistently make the back-side blocks necessary for the system to work may be too much. To be fair, Brown has been regularly asked to pull and make blocks on the move since college, so the transition may not be overwhelming.
Minnesota could target an offensive tackle with this year’s 14th pick. Still, the possibility of getting an established lineman just entering his prime is a tantalizing alternative.
Mike McCarn/Associated Press
The Panthers know the value of good tackle play. After all, Carolina placed the franchise tag on right tackle Taylor Moton.
Some might argue a potential Moton-Brown pairing would be overkill, since both will want to cash in with long-term contract extensions. With Brown’s lower cap charge this year and the Panthers capable of front-loading a possible Moton deal, the feasibility of a trade grows.
Last season’s left tackle, Russell Okung, turns 33 later this year and isn’t under contract.
The Panthers appear desperate to upgrade at quarterback, having been “in on most” of the top available veteran signal-callers, per The Athletic. For the next starting signal-caller to succeed, a strong foundation must be laid. Carolina used its entire draft class to address the defense last year. It’s time to pay attention to the other side of the ball.
The Panthers have weapons at wide receiver and running back. With quarterback already on the organization’s mind, interest in properly protecting whatever investment it makes should grow exponentially.
Brown and the 26-year-old Moton would give the Panthers the league’s best young tackle tandem and a great starting point for an offensive rebuild.
Daniel Kucin Jr./Associated Press
Like the Panthers, the Washington Football Team won’t let its best blocker leave in free agency. Washington placed the franchise tag on right guard Brandon Scherff. Ron Rivera’s squad is solid from right tackle to left guard. Left tackle is an altogether different story.
Cornelius Lucas wasn’t overwhelmed in replacing Geron Christian Sr. last year. Even so, the seven-year veteran better suited as a swing tackle instead of a starting option.
Brown can take the short trip from Baltimore to the nation’s capital and solidify Washington’s offensive line, thus providing the unit with an identity.
Interestingly, a top quarterback prospect likely won’t fall to No. 19, so Washington might be the one franchise willing to give up its opening-round selection for Brown. The offensive tackle class may be deep, but a mid-first-round prospect almost certainly won’t pay better immediate dividends.