The NFL offseason is about four days old and is already unpredictable. Quarterbacks are whizzing back and forth across the stratosphere, cap space is yet unknown, and now, Orlando Brown wants to play left tackle.
He really wants to play left tackle.
And he did this past season, admirably well. Once Ronnie Stanley went down with injury, Brown flipped from the right side, where he started each of the last two seasons, and took over the left tackle job with aplomb. With Stanley returning and under a massive extension, the left tackle position is closed to Brown for the foreseeable future. Unless he’s traded by the Baltimore Ravens.
And that’s what he has requested: a trade out of Baltimore to go play left tackle somewhere else. It’s an archaic idea, that the elite players are all on the left side—right tackles are paid just as highly as left tackles, nowadays. But it’s an idea that’s been in Brown Jr.’s head since he was a kid, raised by the late Orlando Brown Sr.
Suffice to say, the Ravens didn’t expect to have a trade demand passed down from their 25-year-old right tackle on a rookie contract. They’re understandably reticent to move him and will do so only if they can get big capital in return.
Finding a model for a Brown trade is nigh on impossible: young, talented offensive tackles don’t get traded away often. They’re pretty rare commodities. When the Miami Dolphins traded Laremy Tunsil, it was a shock to many—even for a team selling at the trade deadline, a player of Tunsil’s caliber seemed untouchable. He nearly was. The package for Tunsil was as big of a trade package as we’ve seen for a non-quarterback in recent years: two firsts and a second to boot.
But the conditions of the Tunsil trade are tough to replicate. A power-drunk Bill O’Brien called the personnel shots at the time in Houston, and the collective acquisitions of Matt Kalil, Tytus Howard, and Max Scharping weren’t enough protection to solve the offensive ills for the Houston Texans (also coached by O’Brien). Houston overplayed their hand, offering Jadeveon Clowney in the trade package before Jadeveon Clowney signed his franchise tag, and suddenly had to gas up the offer without Clowney as the centerpiece. It was just bad negotiating all around.
Beyond Tunsil, there are only distant connections to be made. Jason Peters was traded from Buffalo to Philadelphia in 2009, when he was three years into a five-year, $15M contract signed after winning the starting tackle job. Peters was traded to the Eagles when he was 27 years old and returned first- and fourth-round picks, but he was considered potentially the best left tackle in the league when he was dealt—such isn’t the case with Brown.
Duane Brown was considered one of the top tackles in the league when he was sent from Houston to Seattle, but he was 32 years old at the time and due $5M over the rest of the season. He went for a second- and third-round pick. Trent Brown went for a third-rounder when San Francisco sent him to New England, and he was just 25, but he only had 10 starts to his name. He wasn’t nearly a known commodity yet.
Brown is everything and a bag of chips. He’s young, talented, and cheap for 2021. He’s a three-year starter with high-quality play already under his belt, especially in the running game. Players like this don’t just become available—and obviously, Brown’s situation is unique, and that’s why he’s here.
The Likely Destinations
Everyone is in the market for a high-caliber starter at left tackle, but who’s really going to bid for Brown? The Indianapolis Colts should be considered leaders in the clubhouse. They made an aggressive trade for a suddenly available veteran in DeForest Buckner last season, just saw their franchise left tackle Anthony Castonzo retire, and have the money in future seasons to extend Brown after his contract expires this year. This is the exact sort of move you should expect Chris Ballard to make—even if it costs him a first-round pick.
The Chargers are in a similar spot. They have a veteran right tackle in Bryan Bulaga but no left tackle, the seventh-most effective cap space in 2022, and figure likely to spend their first-round pick (13th overall) on an offensive lineman anyway. They aren’t as close to competing as the Colts are, but they have a promising young quarterback in Justin Herbert and Joey Bosa returning from injury. This team could get good, quick.
The Washington Football Team and Pittsburgh Steelers are also candidates worthy of note. Neither has a starting left tackle in 2021 (assuming the Steelers let Alejandro Villanueva walk), both have late first-round picks that wouldn’t necessarily produce a starter at left tackle, and both endured early playoff exits and are looking for impact improvements. Pittsburgh has a ton of cap room in 2022; Washington is closer to average. The problem for Pittsburgh: they’re in the same division as the Ravens. That didn’t prevent them from trading for Chris Wormley last year, but this is a higher-stakes deal.
What will those stakes be? With the teams included in the trade conversations considered, as well as the Ravens’ determination to get a fair price for Brown, I’d be surprised if a first-round pick isn’t the starting point. The money you’d save in drafting a tackle is tempting, but for a team like Indianapolis, praying you get a tackle you like at No. 21 overall isn’t a solid bet.
If multiple teams throw their hat in the ring, a first-rounder won’t be enough. I’d imagine additional draft compensation will be needed to break the Ravens’ will, as they certainly don’t want to relinquish a homegrown talent like Brown, even with his insistence of playing on the left side. In that Peters and Tunsil each required at least one first-round pick in a trade, I think Brown will clear that bar comfortably.