Why franchise-tagged OT Orlando Brown Jr. has no leverage with the Kansas City Chiefs

Orlando Brown Jr. is fighting an uphill contractual battle with the Kansas City Chiefs. The franchise-tagged offensive tackle has few options heading into 2022.

Kansas City Chiefs offensive tackle and franchise player Orlando Brown Jr. is not attending training camp and has refused to sign his franchise tag. Yet, at least for the 2022 season, the only realistic outcome involves Brown eventually reporting to Kansas City.

After the Chiefs sent a draft pick package to acquire Brown from the Baltimore Ravens last year, the 26-year-old offensive lineman may believe he has leverage — but he doesn’t. The Chiefs hold all the cards.

Orlando Brown Jr. is fighting a losing battle with the Chiefs

In April 2021, Kansas City landed Brown, a 2021 second-round pick, and a 2022 sixth-round pick from Baltimore in exchange for a first, third, and fourth-round pick in 2021 and a fifth-rounder in 2022. The Chiefs reportedly felt they had sacrificed the equivalent of the 45th overall selection to acquire Brown.

That would indicate that general manager Brett Veach and Kansas City’s front office use the classic Jimmy Johnson-devised NFL trade value chart. Most teams around the league no longer use that chart because it drastically overvalues early picks and places less emphasis on mid-round selections.

As one of the most analytically advanced teams in the NFL, the Ravens likely evaluate trades with a model closer to Chase Stuart of Football Perspective’s chart or the Fitzgerald-Spielberger table. Those charts pegged Baltimore’s return as somewhere between the 20th and 25th pick in the draft.

If the Chiefs felt that they’d given up the equivalent of a mid-to-late first-round selection for Brown, they might have felt more pressure to extend him at any cost. Other NFL players have been able to use similar leverage to extract massive paydays after being shipped to new teams. But because KC believes it gave up draft choices that were analogous only to a mid-second-rounder, they likely didn’t feel coerced into giving Brown whatever he wanted.

Brown wanted a trade out of Baltimore because he wanted to play left tackle, and the Ravens had already made Ronnie Stanley one of the highest-paid linemen in the NFL. Brown received the opportunity with the Chiefs, and while he was a solid blindside protector for Patrick Mahomes, he wasn’t elite. Pro Football Network recently ranked Brown as the 19th-best OT in the league.

Brown isn’t in the Trent Williams/David Bakhtiari class, but he wants to be paid like he is. With no extension in sight, the Chiefs used the franchise tag on Brown in March, locking him into a one-year, fully guaranteed 2022 salary of $16.662 million.

So, the Ravens moved on from Brown rather than pay him top-of-the-market money. The Chiefs, instead of immediately extending him, let Brown play out his contract year before deploying the franchise tag in place of a long-term deal.

And what about the rest of the league? Kansas City used the non-exclusive franchise tender on Brown, so any rival team could have signed him to an offer sheet if they were willing to sacrifice two first-round picks. That would have been an exorbitant cost, but other players — Jalen Ramsey, Laremy Tunsil, Jamal Adams — were all traded for two first-rounders in recent seasons. That’s the price tag for elite talent, but it’s clear the rest of the NFL doesn’t hold Brown in that regard, either.

Kansas City’s extension offer

After the Chiefs assigned Brown the franchise tag, they had until July 15 to hammer out a new pact with the former Oklahoma Sooner. Kansas City reportedly offered Brown a six-year, $139 million extension that would have made him the NFL’s highest-paid offensive tackle on an annual basis ($23.16 million) and included a $30.25 million signing bonus. Sounds pretty reasonable, right?

Wrong. KC’s offer contained a bloated $40+ million final year salary that was used only to inflate the deal’s total value. Brown would have never seen that money. He could have received $95 million over the first five years of the contract, but that $19 million AAV would have ranked him just fifth among offensive tackles.

It wasn’t a realistic proposal from the Chiefs and bordered on bad faith. Kansas City knew Brown wanted to be the NFL’s highest-paid OT, so they seemingly used that against him in negotiations. This deal will make you the highest-paid at your position — just don’t look at the details! 

What are Brown’s options?

Now that the July 15 franchise tag extension deadline has passed, Brown’s options are extremely limited. The Chiefs could give in and trade him, but any team that acquired Brown would just step into Kansas City’s shoes. While he can’t sign a new multi-year deal, Brown could push the Chiefs to increase his salary in 2022 or give him a no-tag clause for 2023 — but KC has no incentive to agree to either of those stipulations.

Brown hasn’t signed his franchise tender, and because he’s not technically under contract, he’s not subject to any fines. He’s not at risk of losing any money while sitting out of training camp. But as sources predicted to PFN’s Aaron Wilson, Brown’s holdout could last into the preseason and all the way until Week 1.

Brown can miss all the time he wants up to Week 1, but if he continues to sit out once the regular season begins, he’ll begin hurting his wallet. As a former third-round pick, Brown has only earned about $6.8 million in his career. That’s certainly life-changing money, but it’s not the kind of generational wealth he’s looking for, and Brown doesn’t have tens of millions sitting in the bank.

For every regular-season week that Brown avoids, he would sacrifice roughly $925K (1/18th of his $16.662 million salary). At that pace, he’d give up the equivalent of his career earnings before Kansas City even reaches their Week 8 bye. It’s not a sound financial decision, and it’s hard to imagine Brown taking this path.

Brown’s best option is to play out the 2022 campaign and hope the Chiefs don’t tag him again next offseason — but the team may do just that. Kansas City could retain him from 2022-23 for a two-year cost of roughly $37 million, and they may view that as a preferable avenue to a long-term deal.

Brown’s best-case scenario might follow the trajectories of Jaguars OT Cam Robinson and Buccaneers WR Chris Godwin, each of whom was franchised for a second consecutive year in 2022 before agreeing to an extension.

How can the Chiefs replace Brown (if it comes to that)?

If Brown decides to throw caution to the wind and hold out into the regular season, the Chiefs will need to find a new left tackle. Left guard Joe Thuney has the ability to shift over one spot, but Andy Reid said Wednesday that Kansas City plans to keep Thuney where he is for now.

Roderick Johnson has taken first-team reps at left tackle during training camp, but he’s played just 610 career snaps and spent the entire 2021 season on the Dolphins practice squad. Meanwhile, fellow reserve Geron Christian has managed nearly twice as many career snaps as Johnson, and he was an effective pass blocker for the Texans in 2021.

If the Chiefs decide to look outside the organization to replace Brown, they’ll find a surprisingly robust — at least, for late July — free agent tackle market. Eric Fisher spent eight years in Kansas City and knows the staff and scheme, while Duane Brown is also still available. Even 40-year-old Jason Peters, who started 15 games for the Bears last season, said he wants to play one more year.

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