On Monday, we found out that the Kansas City Chiefs were choosing not to place the franchise tag on left tackle Orlando Brown Jr., allowing him to test unrestricted free agency and potentially leave the Chiefs with a hole in the starting lineup.
Kansas City may use its exclusive negotiating rights over the next week to get a deal done before the market opens, but there was a negative tone from insiders that pointed toward this genuinely being a divorce.
The #Chiefs still have a week to get a long term deal done with Orlando Brown Jr. @jamespalmerTV joined #TheDrive and gave his percentage chance the two sides get a deal done. pic.twitter.com/AGPyPfe34o— 610SportsKC (@610SportsKC) March 6, 2023
If there truly is no chance the deal gets done, the Chiefs will need a starting left tackle for the 2023 season.
I looked at five names to consider through free agency, trade, or the draft:
1. Draft Anton Harrison
I lead off with a possible draft selection at pick 30: Oklahoma offensive tackle Anton Harrison, who just turned 21 years old and logged 1,807 snaps over three seasons playing left tackle in a modern spread offense; the scheme had him doing plenty of straight pass sets, pulling around or leading into open space on screens.
Harrison excelled, earning first-team All-Big 12 in 2022 with incredible technical play. He handles pass rushers with clean hands, tucked elbows and sound feet that help him catch speed rushers up the arc but also slow down a bull rush just enough. The solid fundamentals help mask a lack of play strength he needs to develop.
He won’t be the flashiest prospect of the 2023 class, which is why he may fall into Kansas City’s range at the end of Day 1. Even if the Chiefs have to move up, I believe Harrison is worth it — giving them an immediate starter and a long-term answer.
2. Trade for Laremy Tunsil
The hesitancy for Kansas City to pay Brown top money isn’t about their unwillingness to invest big at the position; remember, San Francisco 49ers’ left tackle Trent Williams nearly signed with Kansas City at a similar number to the $138 million deal he signed in the 2021 offseason.
The asset needs to be worth such an investment — and one of the only elite offensive tackles in the NFL with even the slightest glimmer of availability is Houston Texans left tackle Laremy Tunsil. Houston is entering their third coaching regime in three years, and the 29-year-old tackle has just one year left on his deal.
It makes him a candidate to attract legitimate draft capital in a trade proposal if the new regime values the draft ammunition over the assurance of one of the league’s best tackles. Tunsil would need to be extended by Kansas City in such a scenario, but there shouldn’t be much question about whether or not he’d deserve it.
The Chiefs could center a package around their 2024 first-round pick or a second-round pick this year along with other assets. Either way, Tunsil would be as good an option as there is in the NFL today.
3. Sign Donovan Smith
It has been reported that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are expected to release starting left tackle Donovan Smith for cap relief once the new year begins. The soon-to-be 30-year-old has started 124 games for the Buccaneers over eight seasons.
Smith has never reached a Pro Bowl or been named to an All-Pro team but uses a massive frame well to swallow up edge rushers and create movement in the run game. He has experience blocking in the pass-heavy, vertical offenses led by quarterback Jameis Winston, but also the run-heavy, quick-pass schemes when quarterback Tom Brady took the reins.
The last deal Smith signed was worth an average of $15 million per season. If the Chiefs can secure him on a short-term deal for that mark, it may be the best solution — allowing Kansas City to keep draft capital to invest in the future of the position.
4. A “Brett Veach special”
A less-exciting option would be to pair a lower-tier free agent with a draft pick that may not be as suited to come in right away.
The free agent could end up being the latest special of general manager Brett Veach: picking up a former first-round pick who didn’t live up to initial expectations. Philadelphia Eagles’ reserve tackle Andre Dillard fits that bill, but so does New England Patriots’ starting tackle Isaiah Wynn.
Dillard has 617 career snaps at left tackle — not playing much in 2022; Wynn was the Patriots’ primary left tackle for three seasons, totaling 2,113 snaps there before moving to right tackle this past year. It can be argued that Dillard hasn’t shown his full potential yet as a starter, while Wynn has proven to be solid at best.
5. The rookie to develop
While this option is ideally not the sole plan for a starter in 2023, the draft will fall a certain way — and if the Chiefs have to wait on a left tackle, that second, third, or fourth-round pick could be an injury away from protecting the blindside of quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
Maryland left tackle Jaelyn Duncan has the feet and movement of a future starter but has work to do with power in his hands and core — on top of refining his deeper pass sets. BYU left tackle Blake Freeland made a case at the Scouting Combine when he broke the all-time record for vertical leap by an offensive lineman (37 inches).
Other names to consider later in the draft: North Carolina left tackle Asim Richards and Florida left tackle Richard Gouraige. Both measured in with ideal arm length while boasting multiple years of starting experience at college.