Revisiting the Deal: Who Were the Real Winners and Losers From the Cincinnati Bengals’ Signing of Orlando Brown Jr.?

The Cincinnati Bengals tried to fix their offensive line by signing Orlando Brown Jr. from the Kansas City Chiefs. Who won and lost?

One of the bigger storylines for the Cincinnati Bengals has been the sorry state of their offensive line — one that they hope to turn around after they signed former Kansas City Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens tackle Orlando Brown Jr. to a four-year deal averaging $16 million.

Brown’s signing has a number of knock-on effects, not the least of which are the movement of Jonah Williams to guard and the signing of Donovan Smith and Jawaan Taylor to the Chiefs. With all of those moving parts, it’s difficult to gauge who won or lost the Brown deal.

Orlando Brown Jr.’s Contract Details

The Bengals signed Brown to a four-year deal worth $64 million with no void years attached. Brown averages $16 million a year, and his cap hits are projected to rise modestly, going from $10.4 million in Year 1 to $22 million in Year 4.

That means Brown consumes 4.6% of the cap in 2023 and is projected to consume 6.4% of the cap in 2024, 5.4% of the cap in 2025, and 7.1% of the cap in 2026, when the total team cap space is expected to be around $308 million, according to Over The Cap.

The Bengals fully guaranteed less than half the deal, providing Brown with $31.1 million in the form of a signing bonus or roster bonus. The full details of the contract have not emerged, which could change the cap calculations but do not change Brown’s cash flow.

Brown does not have many rolling guarantees, which means there isn’t much money that will be turned into guarantees later down the line. He does have a $3 million roster bonus for 2024 that triggers on the fifth day of the 2024 league year, but no money that will become guaranteed in 2025 based on 2024 availability, as is common for big-money NFL contracts.

For example, the Chiefs signed Taylor to a $20 million-a-year deal to play right tackle, and his contract guarantees his 2025 salary on the third day of the 2024 league year. That prevents the Chiefs from cutting him without being forced to put all of the guaranteed cash into escrow in Year 1 of the deal.

Nevertheless, Brown is somewhat protected, as the dead cap hit to cut him would be greater than the cap savings of relieving his contract in 2023, 2024, and 2025.

Players Impacted by the Orlando Brown Jr. Deal

Of course, Brown himself is the biggest stakeholder in his deal with the Bengals, but the deal also meant that there was a cascade effect around the league. On the Bengals alone, a few players stand to gain or lose based on Brown’s signing.

Most directly, Williams will no longer be tasked with the left tackle role. In some sense, this is a loss for Williams, given that left tackle is the most well-paid position along the line. But he’s not fit to play it, so his move to guard might help him.

Relatedly, Joe Burrow will benefit from having a higher-quality offensive line. The issue in Cincinnati has been more a product of their interior line quality than the quality of the players on the outside, but moving Williams inside could improve the interior unit as well.

Taylor was also impacted by Brown’s decision to sign with the Bengals, as it freed up space and cap dollars for the Chiefs to pursue a replacement along the offensive line. Taylor is not projected to play left tackle like Brown did, but the knock-on effects of needing offensive linemen were present in either case.

It also meant the Chiefs needed a left tackle, so they acquired Smith, formerly of the Buccaneers. This changes the situation for Patrick Mahomes, another key stakeholder.

Brown’s deal impacted the rest of the free agency market at tackle, too. That means other players switching teams, like Mike McGlinchey or Andre Dillard, ended up signing contracts with Brown’s deal as a bit of a North Star on negotiations.

The final player impacted is probably Myles Murphy, who was drafted 28th overall by the Bengals. The Bengals likely would have considered another player or position and may have attempted to trade up in order to secure the services of a player like tackle Anton Harrison or may have traded down to get better value before drafting Steve Avila or Matthew Bergeron.

Winners and Losers of the Orlando Brown Jr. Deal

Offensive Line Free Agency Rankings 2023: Orlando Brown and Mike McGlinchey Highlight OT Class

Brown is a very good player, but it would be a stretch to call him a great one. Luckily for the Bengals, his deal ends up taking less cap space than great players usually take up. In fact, Brown is probably underpaid in Cincinnati. That makes the Bengals clear winners here.

Burrow ends up a winner as well, with better pass protection than he’s used to seeing up front, allowing him more time to hit the deeper targets that Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins excel at converting.

Williams’ comes out of this deal as a bit of a wash. He loses an opportunity to compete for a more high-value role, but he might end up playing a position better suited to what he can do.

This also means that the beneficiaries of the extra cap space on the offensive line, Smith and Taylor, also end up as winners. They secured deals many would have considered to be above their market value in part because the Chiefs had the space available to make those deals.

As a result of the contract terms, Brown comes out as somewhat of a loser in the deal. Even when ignoring the Chiefs’ initial deal before he was franchise-tagged in 2022, the numbers look a little low.

That’s particularly true once we account for guaranteed money. In initial guarantees, Brown’s deal is not unusual — just under 50% guaranteed is about average for the position and matches what Taylor received in his deal.

But Taylor has functional guarantees that Brown does not, and once the $20 million of 2025 cash is accounted for in the guarantee structure, we can see that a player like Taylor has much more protection in his contract.

Twelve players at tackle have a higher three-year cash flow than Brown, and only two of them have less functionally guaranteed. One of them is Trent Williams, whose age makes functional guarantees an unlikelihood.

The other is Lane Johnson, who has option bonuses at the end of every year that will pay out more than the functional guarantees indicate. He also has a big void year in the contract that hits in 2028, which may be restructured away — in a sense, the void year is its own security.

In short, Brown has less money and less protection than his talent deserves.

The Chiefs are also probably losers. They could have secured Brown at a cheaper deal but instead opted for Taylor, who has struggled more at tackle, on the right side and have a declining Smith on the left side. The Chiefs know the value of pass protection even with a quarterback as gifted at avoiding pressure as Mahomes, given how they lost the 2020 Super Bowl.

Listen to the PFN Inside Access Podcast!

Listen to the PFN Inside Access Podcast! Click the embedded player below to listen, or you can find the PFN Fantasy Podcast on iTunes, Spotify, and all major podcast platforms.  Be sure to subscribe and leave us a five-star review!

Join the Conversation!

Related Articles