The Ravens have traded Pro Bowl right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. to the Kansas City Chiefs, sending one of their top young players to an AFC rival in exchange for a bounty of picks, including the No. 31 overall selection in next week’s NFL draft.
The Ravens on Friday dealt Brown, their 2021 second-round pick (No. 58 overall) and a 2022 sixth-round pick in exchange for the Chiefs’ first-round pick (No. 31), third-round pick (No. 94) and fourth-round pick (No. 136). The Ravens will also receive a 2022 fifth-round pick.
Brown, 24, who must pass a physical before the deal is finalized, is set to play out the final year of his rookie deal without a lucrative contract extension secured. He could re-sign with Kansas City, receive the Chiefs’ franchise tag next offseason or test free agency.
The Ravens, who had wrestled with the question of Brown’s future since January, now have the Nos. 27 and 31 overall picks in the draft and two third-round selections (Nos. 94 and 104). They have nine picks overall in 2021, including two in the fourth round, two in the fifth and one in the sixth.
In Kansas City, Brown will play left tackle and protect star quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who has torched the Ravens in three regular-season wins. In March, the Chiefs released longtime starting left tackle Eric Fisher, who tore his Achilles tendon in the AFC championship game. With former starting right tackle Mitchell Schwartz also unavailable because of injury, Mahomes was sacked three times and repeatedly pressured in a Super Bowl LV loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Ravens have been wracked by instability up front themselves. In 2019, an elite offensive line helped pave the way for quarterback Lamar Jackson and a record-breaking rushing attack. Now general manager Eric DeCosta must replace his third Pro Bowl lineman in 13 months. Two of them have left Baltimore for good, with right guard Marshal Yanda retiring in March 2020 after a Hall of Fame-worthy career and Brown now heading to Kansas City. The Ravens were also without All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley for 10 games last year after he suffered a season-ending ankle injury in early November.
In Stanley’s absence, Brown moved over to left tackle, where he played in college. The transition was seamless: According to Pro Football Focus, Brown did not allow a sack or a quarterback hit in his 389 pass-blocking snaps at the position last season, the majority of which came after Stanley’s injury. (At right tackle, meanwhile, he allowed three sacks.) He was named to his second Pro Bowl in December.
In mid-January, the Ravens’ season ended with a playoff loss to the Buffalo Bills. Two weeks later, Brown tweeted, “I’m a LEFT Tackle,” where he’d starred at Oklahoma before arriving in Baltimore in 2018. With Stanley’s contract untradeable, the Ravens and Brown’s representatives began exploring trade opportunities around the NFL soon after.
Brown’s positional preference has personal meaning. His late father, Orlando Sr., played six seasons as the Ravens’ right tackle, and he told his son that he wanted Brown Jr. to play where he could not: on the left side. “His mentality and approach was, ‘I want you to be better than me,’ ” Brown told The Baltimore Sun in November. “So from Day 1, when I started playing offensive line, it was always him working me on the left side.”
Other motivations, however, were likely in play. While more and more of the NFL’s top pass rushers line up over right tackle, top-tier left tackles are generally paid more than their top-tier counterparts. Stanley last year signed a five-year, $98.8 million contract extension, including a $22.5 million signing bonus, that made him one of the NFL’s highest-paid linemen. With the league’s salary cap set to expand once more in 2022, Brown could soon approach or eclipse $20 million in annual contract value.
“Chiefs are getting a straight up beast,” defensive end Calais Campbell said of Brown, a beloved teammate, in a Twitter message Friday. “The kinda guy you look forward to going to battle with.”
The Ravens’ bolstered draft capital gives them the flexibility to trade up at least a dozen spots in the first round next week. Under DeCosta, however, a trade down is more likely. The Ravens need help at edge rusher and wide receiver, and they were already on the lookout for another offensive lineman. Stanley and free-agent signing Kevin Zeitler are set to start at left tackle and right guard in 2021, respectively. Bradley Bozeman could remain at left guard or move to center. With Brown’s departure, there are now two jobs up for grabs.
The Ravens could draft his replacement — NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah and former Ravens scout has seven tackles among his top 50 prospects — or sign one. Alejandro Villanueva, 32, who didn’t miss a start at left tackle over the past five seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers, reportedly visited with the team Thursday. The Ravens are expected to hold off on finalizing free-agent signings until at least May 3, when they no longer affect the NFL’s compensatory-pick formula.
“There are always a lot of moving parts in any offseason,” DeCosta said Monday, when asked about Brown and Villanueva. “We’re just getting ready for the draft, and we’re basically just approaching this as how can we build the best possible team to play in September.”
DeCosta’s track record on trades is not perfect, but he’s won more than he’s lost. Last year, he traded a fifth-round pick for Campbell and dealt tight end Hayden Hurst for the second-round pick that turned into running back J.K. Dobbins. In 2019, he acquired cornerback Marcus Peters in exchange for inside linebacker Kenny Young and a late-round pick.
Considering his trade partner and Jackson’s upcoming megadeal, DeCosta’s latest deal is maybe the most ambitious of his tenure. The Ravens, undone by poor offensive line play in two straight playoff losses, are betting that they can find a capable replacement for Brown, ensuring short-term stability, while leveraging his trade value for long-term gains.
“If you don’t have a good offensive line, I don’t think you’re winning any games in this league,” coach John Harbaugh said in January. “So our offensive line is, to me, a primary piece to what we try to do, and we need to build the very best offensive line that we can.”