In the midst of NFL cap casualty season, the Chicago Bears may have just had the perfect free agent target hit the market ahead of the start of 2023 free agency.
The Bears are at the doorstep of a potential franchise-altering offseason with the team owning about $96 million in cap space along with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 NFL draft, which many expect Chicago to trade away for additional picks and/or players. Before figuring out which rookies might best fit their future, though, the Bears will have the opportunity to be aggressive in free agency and sink significant resources into guys they feel can shore up their biggest positions of concern for next season.
That’s where former Kansas City Chiefs left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. comes in.
Bleacher Report’s Alex Ballentine recently dubbed Brown a “realistic dream” target for the Bears in 2023 free agency after the Chiefs declined to place a franchise tag on the four-time Pro Bowler before the NFL deadline on Tuesday, March 7. The 26-year-old Brown will now hit the open market next week and, as Ballentine notes, could be one of the “biggest fish” out there for the Bears in terms of adding premium talent.
Orlando Brown Jr. Would Give Justin Fields a Stalwart LT
The numbers speak for themselves when it comes Brown’s effectiveness as an NFL offensive tackle. According to Pro Football Focus, he played more than 1,000 snaps in each of his past four seasons as a full-time starting left and has allowed no more than four sacks in each of those campaigns. He was also their fifth-highest-graded pass blocker in 2022 among offensive tackles who played at least 80% of their team’s snaps.
Put all that together with the fact that Brown is also only going to be turning 27 in May and he could be one of the best offensive line talents on the market for a Bears roster that desperately needs to improve the protection for quarterback Justin Fields.
“Brown only allowed four sacks at left tackle last season. From Week 10 on, he had the third-best PFF pass-blocking grade among left tackles. Brown is an earth-mover in the run game and has experience blocking for Lamar Jackson from his time in Baltimore,” Ballentine wrote in March 8 article. “Braxton Jones played really well for a fifth-round rookie last season, but this move would allow the Bears to see if he can flip over to the right side. Brown makes too much sense to pass up.”
Bears Might Be More Interested in a Veteran Right Tackle
Brown is a stalwart left tackle in the league and, on the surface, seems to be an ideal option for the Bears if they’re looking to (rightly) spend some money on their offensive line this offseason, but there are a few reasons to give the idea pause.
For starters, Brown is going to be extremely expensive, even for a deep-pocket team like the Bears. The Chiefs found that out trying to negotiate with Brown’s camp during the 2021 offseason. According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the Chiefs’ final extension offer to Brown was “a six-year, $139 million deal that included a $30.25 million signing bonus $95 million in the first five years of the contract” — and Brown refused it. That suggests he is chasing a deal worth north of $23 million annually.
A hefty ask from a rebuilding team that could rather easily position itself to get one of the top offensive tackles in the incoming 2023 rookie class.
The Bears might also be more interested in nailing down one of the top right tackles on the market, such as Mike McGlinchey or Jawaan Taylor, due to the presence of standout rookie left tackle Braxton Jones. There are no guarantees that Jones will be able to lock down the left tackle job in 2023, but the Bears were impressed with the work he did covering Fields’ blindside as a fifth-round rookie last season and saw his overall play rewarded with a PFWA All-Rookie selection.
The Bears could always try sliding Jones over to the right side, but perhaps Bears general manager Ryan Poles — who drafted Jones just last year — feels confident in him making a second-year jump and would rather invest his resources in other spots.