On Monday afternoon, the Kansas City Chiefs dropped a bombshell: the team decided that left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. would not get the franchise tag. If Brown and the Chiefs can't reach an agreement on a new contract before 3 p.m. Arrowhead Time on March 15, he'll become an unrestricted free agent.
In a surprise twist, the Chiefs will not be franchise tagging left tackle Orlando Brown, per source. He’s set to be a free agent March 13. The player has been notified.— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) March 6, 2023
This was a major surprise to most observers — and many Chiefs fans. Going into this offseason, it was widely expected that Brown would again be franchise tagged, ensuring that Kansas City would have a solid left tackle on its roster in 2023. Even if the team didn't intend to give Brown a long-term deal, having a Pro Bowl left tackle on a one-year, $20 million contract isn't a bad option.
But the Chiefs had a different idea. Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer reported that the team wanted to make a long-term deal for its left tackle, rather than pay $20 million for another one-year solution.
Chiefs' decision to not tag Orlando Brown came down to, I'm told, their desire to lock in a long-term LT this offseason. Tagging Brown doesn't do it. It'd basically guarantee he's free in '24, make it harder to do a deal (bc of the $20M number) now.— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) March 6, 2023
They'll look at all options.
Breer's report speaks volumes about the contract negotiation. The contract offer that Brown rejected a year ago essentially would have paid him $19 million per season for five years. But now, Kansas City has balked at $20 million for a single year.
Brown likely believes he could get more on the open market. Two years ago, San Francisco 49ers left tackle Trent Williams used free agency — particularly the Chiefs — to negotiate a six-year contract worth $23 million annually with guarantees of up to $55.1 million. Brown — now six years younger than Williams was at that time — may approach or exceed that number. Perhaps there is a team that will give him the big payday.
Unfortunately, that contract probably won't come from the Chiefs.
At no point over the past two offseasons has Kansas City seemed interested in paying Brown in that realm. Now that it appears he will hit free agency, there is no indication the team is making an offer that strong.
Still, letting Brown walk seems confusing at first glance. The Chiefs invested a lot of draft capital into acquiring him — and allowing a Pro Bowl left tackle to leave without compensation is odd for a team that is paying its quarterback $500 million. In most situations, a team would tag Brown again, hoping to come to terms on a new deal. But that might be harder to do than we expected.
Suppose the Chiefs had placed the franchise tag on Brown to trade him — which is how the Chiefs acquired defensive end Frank Clark. But once the league year begins a week from Wednesday, Kansas City must account for the franchise tag's $20 million under the salary cap.
Unfortunately, it takes some time to complete a trade. Clark wasn't traded until mid-to-late April, a month after most free-agency transactions have occurred. So Kansas City would have had to go through free agency with $20 million of its spending power tied up in a player the team doesn't intend to keep. It's hard to be active in free agency with around 10% of your cap space essentially gone.
Certainly, the Chiefs could have swallowed the bullet by placing Brown on the tag again, hoping to find a long-term solution in the draft. But while on the tag a year ago, Brown held out from last year's offseason activities. It's likely he would've done it again — potentially for even longer.
The bottom line
It left one option: letting Brown walk.
There's no upside in the Chiefs committing to pay Brown $20 million to be an unhappy player they have no plans on signing long-term. Even as a stopgap option at left tackle, that's an expensive price to pay for someone you won't keep beyond 2023.
None of this means Kansas City won't re-sign Brown before March 15 — or even during the free agency period. But now, it will be on the Chiefs' terms. Kansas City seems to have set a firm floor for Brown's value. It's now up to him to decide if he can accept that in order to remain with a Super Bowl contender or find more money on the open market.
In my opinion, the Chiefs have made the right decision.
We can argue about whether they should've waited this long to reach this solution — but if Brown cannot agree to the team's terms, there's no sense in trying to find a trade or negotiate with him. While letting Brown walk does leave Kansas City without an obvious answer at left tackle — whether immediately or over the long-term — the team now has more flexibility to address that problem.
With or without Brown, we should trust the Chiefs to find a solution.