Whenever the Kansas City Chiefs win, we praise the same cast of characters. We share the latest Patrick Mahomes highlight, rave about the new Travis Kelce record or campaign for Chris Jones to be defensive player of the year.
But when the team struggles — especially on offense — one of the first names spoken by Kansas City fans is left tackle Orlando Brown Jr.
Much of that criticism has diminished since the Chiefs’ Week 13 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. That’s a game where Brown did struggle — but for most of the second half of the season, he has been playing some of his best football since coming to Kansas City.
It’s time for fans on both sides of the argument to be realistic about his performance.
Brown’s first two seasons with the Chiefs have shared many similarities. In each one, he struggled in the early weeks — in part because of injuries, but also in part due to the competition he faced. As each of these seasons progressed, he strung together good performances when it mattered most: headed into the playoffs. This might have been because of improved health — or perhaps because his technique had improved. Our Bryan Stewart recently wrote in these pages that the change in weather also complements Brown’s skill set.
But whatever the reason for his late-season improvements might be, it once again complicates Kansas City’s offseason decisions.
Brown is much like a streaky hitter in baseball. For a period of time, they can look like one of the top performers in the league — and at other times, they can play very poorly. But when you examine their numbers at the end of the year, they turn out to be near the league average.
As we ride the highs and lows of his seasons, Brown is no different. His full body of work shows us exactly who he is: an average left tackle who struggles against speed rushers, can dominate power rushers and is an above-average run blocker.
We can go back and forth on his trade value. Personally, I have viewed the trade that brought Brown to Kansas City as a win for the team; it’s a good value to give up a low first-round pick for two years of play from an average left tackle who is relatively inexpensive.
His value to the Chiefs will always be tied to his market price. Being paid at the franchise tag, Brown’s cost isn’t back-breaking. If the team can keep him on a fair-market deal over the long term, it might be the best way to protect Mahomes’ blind side — especially if the opportunity to bring in a better left tackle presents itself, which would allow Kansas City to move him back to the right side.
Brown, of course, has every right to try to maximize his value. If he seeks a top-of-the-market deal for a left tackle, things could get hairy. In that case, a second franchise tag could be a realistic option.
But over the long term, the Chiefs could do a lot worse than having Brown as their left tackle. In essence, they are stuck in tackle purgatory. They should always be looking to upgrade the position — but until a better option is available to them, Brown should remain in place.