OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Can a four-word tweet trigger the biggest trade in Baltimore Ravens history?
On Jan. 29, offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr. surprisingly posted on Twitter: “I’m a LEFT Tackle.” Two weeks later, there’s mounting speculation about what teams would want Brown and what the Ravens could land in return.
The only certainty at this point is that it’s going to take a very high draft pick — a first-round one, at the very least -- to pry Brown out of Baltimore, which is something that has never happened in this franchise’s 26-year existence. In the 44 player trades made by the Ravens, none have involved a first-round pick and just two resulted in Baltimore getting a second-round one (offensive tackle Tony Jones in 1997 and tight end Hayden Hurst last offseason).
Why the premium price? If the Kansas City Chiefs proved anything in the Super Bowl, it doesn’t matter who you have at quarterback if you don’t protect him, especially on the edges. With Brown, the Ravens understand this is a rare opportunity for a team to acquire a two-time Pro Bowl offensive tackle who is just 24.
OT Orlando Brown Jr. says he's a LEFT tackle pic.twitter.com/3p2AcD5— Orlando Brown Jr. (@ZEUS_78) Jan. 29, 2021
No one expects Baltimore to receive what the Miami Dolphins got from the Houston Texans for Laremy Tunsil two years ago. Giving up multiple first-round picks and a second-rounder in a package deal for a left tackle can lead to someone getting fired (ask Bill O’Brien).
According to ESPN Stats & Information, the best comparable is Jason Peters getting traded from the Buffalo Bills in 2009. The Eagles sent the No. 28 overall pick as well as two other selections (a fourth and sixth-round pick) for Peters, who was 27 at the time and had been to two Pro Bowls.
Baltimore could also be open to a more creative deal which includes multiple Day 2 picks (second and third rounds), as well as a player who fills a need at wide receiver or pass rusher.
Here’s a look at how the Ravens and Browns got to this point and what lies ahead:
Why did Brown prompt trade talk?: Brown filled in for injured All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley for the last 11 games of the season, and he apparently doesn’t want to move back to the right side. According to Brown, it’s about fulfilling his father’s dream. He recently retweeted a Baltimore Sun article from the season in which he told the story about how Orlando Brown Sr. who played nine seasons in the NFL at right tackle, wanted his son to be better than him and play on the more prestigious left side.
While Brown insisted it’s not about money, the top five left tackles are averaging $18.7 million per season while the top five right tackles are making $4.5 million less ($14.25 million), according to Spotrac. The Ravens were aware that Brown had seen himself as a left tackle. But some members of the organization was caught off guard that Brown made it so public. This was out of character from the affable Brown, who grew up around this team and wrote a note to Ozzie Newsome before the draft that it would be special for him to play in Baltimore.
Why trade Brown? The Ravens can get a first-round pick for someone who will be playing elsewhere in another year regardless. Brown is entering the final year of his rookie deal, and there is no chance of him coming back if he truly only wants to play left tackle. Baltimore is set at that spot after signing Stanley to a five-year, $98.75 million extension four months ago.
This would represent an impressive return on investment for the Ravens, who got Brown in the third round in 2018 after his epic meltdown at the combine. Brown’s numbers show he played left tackle at a high level. He allowed no sacks or quarterback hits in 700 snaps at left tackle last season, according to Pro Football Focus. Whether a team is willing to give a first-round pick for Brown will show if anyone sees him as an elite left tackle.
The Ravens are happy to accommodate Brown, just like they did last offseason when Baltimore traded Hurst to the Atlanta Falcons because he was displeased with his role. The difference here is the Ravens had a Pro Bowl tight end in Mark Andrews when they dealt Hurst. Baltimore simply isn’t going to trade Brown if it ultimately weakens its team.
Why hold onto Brown? The Ravens are a Super Bowl contender now, and they are not as good of an offensive line or team without Brown. It was just a month ago that both general manager Eric DeCosta and coach John Harbaugh put a priority on the offensive line. Baltimore already has question marks at center and right guard, so why add another at right tackle? There is no clear-cut replacement for Brown on the right side, where the Ravens patched it together by rotating D.J. Fluker and Tyre Phillips in the second half of last season.
While Stanley is expected to be recovered from a season-ending ankle injury by training camp, Brown represents the safety net at left tackle if Stanley has a setback. Plus, Brown is a major bargain at $3.384 million this season. If Brown signs elsewhere in 2022, Baltimore knows it will likely get a third-round compensatory pick in the 2023 draft. That’s why the Ravens aren’t going to trade Brown unless a team wows them with a significant trade offer.
Which teams would trade for Brown? Pro Football Focus points out that there are five teams who need a left tackle and rank among the top 10 teams in salary cap space: the Jacksonville Jaguars, Indianapolis Colts, Washington Football Team, Los Angeles Chargers and Miami Dolphins. The Carolina Panthers, San Francisco 49ers, Chicago Bears, Minnesota Vikings and Philadelphia Eagles all could need a left tackle, as well. That’s 10 teams, or nearly one-third of the league, who could use Brown.
What if Brown sits out this season? Not happening. The days of holding out in the final year of a rookie deal are over with the latest Collective Bargaining Agreement. Per Article 8, Section 1(b), a player won’t receive an accrued season if he fails to report to training camp on the mandatory reporting date. So, if Brown doesn’t show up to training camp, he’ll revert to a restricted free agent in 2022. If the Ravens can’t trade Brown, he’ll suit up for this upcoming season and put all of his energy into making this his best season. Anything less hurts his free-agent value next offseason. In other words, the Ravens have all the leverage in this situation.
Will Brown be the Ravens’ starting right tackle to open the 2021 season? The odds favor Brown staying. It doesn’t make sense for a championship-caliber team to lose Brown unless it’s a first-round pick. With the decreased salary cap, teams will see more value in addressing left tackle in the draft than giving up a high pick and signing Brown to a big-money extension. ESPN draft expects Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay both have five offensive tackles going in the first round. That being said, DeCosta has shown he’s more apt to make moves like this than Newsome (nine player trades in 25 months as GM). So, it only takes one team to make the right offer.