For the fourth straight year the Bengals opened free agency with a swashbuckling move for an elite starter when multiple sources reported late Wednesday night they gave four-time Pro Bowl left tackle Orlando Brown Jr., a offensive-line record $31 million signing bonus to protect quarterback Joe Burrow's blindside just a month after helping the Chiefs win the Super Bowl.
The reported four-year, $64.1 million deal shuffles the offensive line they re-made the first day of free agency year last year, as well as a tightening salary cap still bracing for that potential mega extension for Burrow. Although the Bengals indicated at the NFL scouting combine two weeks ago that incumbent left tackle Jonah Williams wouldn't be moving to right tackle, that was before the Bengals went out and acquired their best offensive lineman since the says of Pro Bowl left tackle Andrew Whitworth.
Whitworth, now an NFL analyst for Amazon, took a call from Brown Wednesday night just as he hung up with Bengals.com.
"It's exciting, for one thing, to get a player of that caliber," Whitworth said. "Orlando has played in Baltimore and Kansas City, two different systems. One is physical domination and the other one is tailored to Patrick Mahomes. He's proven he can win a lot of different ways and that experience should be a great influence on the group. Let's face it. When Joe Burrow is protected, no matter what else is going on, the Bengals are hard to beat."
Williams, who counts more than $12 million against the salary cap, is coming off surgery for a dislocated kneecap and is reportedly going to be ready for training camp. The injury status of incumbent right tackle La'el Collins for Opening Day is murky since he's just in the second month of rehab for a torn ACL. At the combine offensive line coach Frank Pollack said swing tackle Jackson Carman is in the mix to start on the right side if Collins isn't ready for early in the season.
But no matter how they line up, it is one of the biggest lightning strikes in Bengals history as the roaring '20s continue for the two-time AFC finalists after they secured one of the top players in the game who doesn't turn 27 until May 2. They know each other well after two seasons the Bengals and Chiefs have played four titanic games and split the last two AFC title games. Bengals sack ace Trey Hendrickson, who had 1.5 sacks in those games, reportedly has high regard for Brown. And, Brown broke into the NFL the previous three seasons with Baltimore in the AFC North. He's missed just one of a possible 82 regular-season games and started all 10 playoff games.
A third-round pick out of Oklahoma in 2018, Brown bristled at playing right tackle and the Ravens traded him to the Chiefs. The son of the late Browns and Ravens left tackle Orlando Brown, Sr., has been on the left side without moving ever since. He told NFL Media the offer to play left tackle is what swung him to Cincinnati.
"I'm super thankful for the opportunity to carry on my father's legacy and be a left tackle," Brown said. "It was important to be able to play that position and play for a winning team and a winning quarterback. Who Dey!"
The monstrous 6-8, 363-pound Brown is fiercely proud of how he plays left tackle. As Bengals Ring of Honor right tackle Willie Anderson recalled Wednesday night, Brown's father paved the way for right tackles to make big money in the early days of free agency in the 1990s while urging his son to play left tackle, at the time the more high-profile side.
As late as an ESPN interview a few days ago leading up to free agency, Brown made it clear he wanted to stay on the left side.
"I think the reason I've been able to make the last four Pro Bowls is because my peers understand the type of player I am in talent," Brown said, "I believe that being in Kansas City was a lot more difficult and a lot harder because of the one-on-ones. That's what makes people respect me. That's what makes coaches, front offices, players (say), 'When you line up against Orlando Brown, you're going to see him 45 times.'"
The Chiefs used the franchise tag on Brown after not agreeing on a long-term deal and they stayed away from using it again this free agency.
Whitworth has heard the alleged NFL CW that Brown is a better right tackle than left tackle, but he's not too sure about that. "He's been productive both places," Whitworth says. Plus, he thinks Brown's strength and size is a great fit for Burrow.
"Orlando is not going to get knocked back. There is no concern of that," Whitworth said. "Joe just wants to know if you're going to miss, where are you going to miss. If Orlando is going to get beat, it's probably going to be on an outside speed rush. So all Joe has to do is step up in the pocket."
Before dying at age 40 when his son was 15 in 2011, Orlando "Zeus," Brown was a respected figure in Cincinnati. He started his college career at Central State in Wilberforce, Ohio, and finished at South Carolina State before embarking on a 129-game career as an undrafted free agent with the Bengals AFC Central rival Browns and Ravens in the '90s and then meeting them again with the Ravens in the latter day AFC North.
As the Browns right tackle in 1995, Brown started the last game at Cleveland's Municipal Stadium, a Browns win over the Bengals. In 1999 as the right tackle for the new Cleveland Browns, he started the last game at Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium, a Bengals win over the Browns.
Willie Anderson also remembers a Bengals-Ravens pregame in Baltimore when Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson goofed around in warmups and hopped on the back of the 6-7, 360-pound Brown. Brown took exception and chased Johnson around the field until Johnson showed up huffing and puffing in the Bengals locker room and asking Anderson what he should do.
"Stay in here until the game starts," Anderson told him.