The Kansas City Chiefs’ 2021 season came to an unceremonious end on Sunday — and with the finality of the 27-24 overtime loss to the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC title game comes a quick transition to what the personnel staff must do to ensure something like that never happens again.
The Chiefs have some tough decisions to make. Among them are what they will do about the expiring contracts of their key players — including that of left tackle Orlando Brown Jr., whom the team acquired via trade with the conference-rival Baltimore Ravens in late April.
The 25-year-old came to the Chiefs with one year left on his rookie deal. He played all but one regular-season game en route to a Pro Bowl season in Kansas City. Brown has made the Pro Bowl in three straight seasons.
“Orlando was a guy that had that dream to play left tackle and had a small sample size of him playing left tackle at Baltimore,” said general manager Brett Veach on a conference call with the media on Tuesday. “We had an opportunity for him to do that — and obviously feel like on a whole, our offensive line played outstanding this year; credit to coach (Andy) Heck and our coaching staff. I thought Orlando did a great job. He’s another unique character, too. When you talk about a culture — when you talk about a guy that does everything the right way — Orlando Brown is in that category. The guy never misses practice. He’s as dependable as there is.”
Brown’s only missed start came due to an injury in warmups.
“That Cincinnati game that we played in the regular season — it killed him that he couldn’t play. He actually came back on the field and wanted to play with a pulled calf muscle. I think he’s done a great job at left tackle — and [we will] certainly work and get him done. We expect him to be our left tackle moving forward.”
Brown will (and probably reasonably should) expect a significant, multi-year contract. As the successor to former first-overall pick Eric Fisher — and with the team backing him as the blind-side protector to former MVP Patrick Mahomes — he plays one of the most critical roles.
As Veach’s words illustrated Tuesday, the Chiefs’ personnel staff understands that fact. But he did acknowledge his team will be working through an abundance of expiring contracts as the league’s cap continues to recover from the coronavirus pandemic.
The general manager also admitted the Chiefs thought the NFL’s cap number would be a tad higher heading into this next season (it’s around $208 million), so tools such as the franchise tag come into play.
Each NFL team is allowed one franchise tag per season — and if it’s “exclusive,” it represents a player being offered a one-year contract that is the average of the league’s top five salaries at the player’s position. It is worth noting here that using a tag for Brown would rule out that option for impending unrestricted free agent Tyrann Mathieu.
(Note: Per Spotrac, the estimated franchise tag cost for an offensive lineman in 2022 will be approximately $16.5 million)
Likely the franchise tag, then potentially a new deal. A huge priority and payoff for a nice trade. https://t.co/kuRzMcrCIl— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) February 1, 2022
That has always been on the table for Brown, with eyes on next year’s offseason as the time to lock him up long-term. Veach broke down Brown’s situation in the context of the franchise tag.
“When you have a player come in here — and I think when he loves being here — and I think when the coaching staff and the personnel staff feel the same way, I think that it’s always easier to get something done when players see a place like Kansas City as a long-term place for them to potentially start and finish their career. So when you get a guy like that — and I think the trade happens — and I think everything he wanted from this experience in regard to playing left tackle, playing in Kansas City, playing with Pat Mahomes.
“Now, I haven’t asked him this directly, but I would venture to say that’s in been exactly what he’s wanted — and I think we’ve been looking for a tough, rugged, dependable left tackle to protect Pat Mahomes. So I think when you have that scenario play out where the player loves the team and the team loves the player, I think things are always more likely to get worked out. We hope that element will be something that we iron out — and it would be beneficial to us, because it allows us to do more things.”