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Orlando Brown Jr. Decision Marks End of Chiefs’ Honeymoon, Start of Title Defense

Kansas City’s roster-building principles are being tested with the team’s tackle now available on the free-agent market.

For Chiefs GM Brett Veach, Monday signaled the end of a championship honeymoon and ushered in the beginning of his quest to field the NFL’s first repeat champion since the 2003–04 Patriots.

Three years ago, Kansas City was coming off its first Super Bowl victory in 50 years. In the following weeks, the Chiefs launched their Run It Back Tour, retaining almost every key member of their 2019 title team.

Based on early indications, there is no such plan for this latest championship squad.

On Monday afternoon, Sports Illustrated reported the Chiefs were set to meet with impending free-agent left tackle Orlando Brown Jr.’s representation to discuss his contract. The result of that meeting was Veach’s informing Brown’s agent his client would not receive a franchise tag for the second consecutive year.

While the Chiefs still desire to retain Brown on a long-term deal, they now risk him leaving on the open market where he’ll be the premier option at tackle. This is because Kansas City wants to maintain cap flexibility going into free agency come March 15. With Brown on a second tag, he would have accounted for $19.9 million, putting the Chiefs in a financial bind.

An hour after the news on Brown’s future broke, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported the Chiefs plan to release edge rusher Frank Clark after brief talks to reconfigure his contract broke down. By cutting Clark, Kansas City will get $21 million in cap relief, giving the defending champs $17 million in space while they eat $7.7 million in dead money.

Chiefs tackle Orlando Brown Jr. enters free agency after not getting tagged by the Chiefs

Whether to tag or re-sign Brown is the first big decision of the Chiefs’ offseason. 

Ultimately, the shift in Veach’s thinking from the aftermath of his first ring to the present moment can be traced to a few beliefs.

For starters, the combination of quarterback Patrick Mahomes and coach Andy Reid makes Kansas City a perennial Super Bowl contender. The quickest way to limit that tandem’s premium opportunities is to overspend on surrounding talent.

No move showcased that ethos more than last March, when the Chiefs stunned the football world by trading All-Pro wide receiver Tyreek Hill to the Dolphins. Kansas City decided against giving Hill a contract of $30 million per year, instead moving him for five draft picks.

Hill amassed career bests in catches (119) and receiving yards (1,710) last year in Miami. Yet Mahomes won his second regular-season MVP, Super Bowl MVP and Lombardi Trophy with the league’s top offense, utilizing JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling as Hill’s primary replacements, along with a few big plays by Kadarius Toney.

For Veach, re-signing Brown would be ideal but is not essential. With a multiyear pact, Kansas City would be able to minimize this year’s cap hit and spread the financial burden across multiple years, likely in ascending cap numbers with declining guarantees. A tag hampers this winter’s plans while providing no certainty moving forward.

And if the Chiefs lose Brown in free agency, they have nine draft picks plus pending compensatory selections, likely giving them another three. Kansas City will have the ability to move up and snag a rookie left tackle early if needed. We saw this strategy last spring, when Veach traded first-, third- and fourth-round selections to the Patriots, moving up eight slots to pluck corner Trent McDuffie from Washington with the 21st pick.

Which leads to another Kansas City belief: It will crush the draft.

Frankly, it’s hard to argue. This past season, the Chiefs gave significant snaps to eight rookies and won the Super Bowl. In the AFC championship game against the high-powered Bengals, Kansas City played three rookie cornerbacks—McDuffie, Joshua Williams and Jaylen Watson—for all but seven combined snaps in a 23–20 victory.

Over the past three years, Veach has drafted a cavalcade of young talent.

In 2020, the Chiefs found linebacker Willie Gay Jr., corner L’Jarius Sneed and defensive lineman Mike Danna. In ’21, Kansas City nabbed linebacker Nick Bolton and center Creed Humphrey, both in the second round, before selecting right guard Trey Smith in the sixth. Last year, the Chiefs picked the aforementioned trio of corners, along with edge rusher George Karlaftis, running back Isiah Pacheco and receiver Skyy Moore.

Of the dozen above names, only Moore and Williams didn’t start in Super Bowl LVII against the Eagles. Still, Moore scored a fourth-quarter touchdown, and Williams played 41 snaps.

With so many key contributors on rookie deals, Kansas City has myriad options. The Chiefs can begin extending those players as they become eligible for new deals, and/or trade for proven talent on a short-term deal—think Cardinals wideout DeAndre Hopkins. They could also sign a premium talent to bolster the roster.

Perhaps Veach sees Brown as such a player and will ultimately pay him, which may even be easier after seeing his market. Or, maybe Kansas City sees the 26-year-old, three-time Pro Bowler as a good piece who isn’t worth a great price, and is willing to move off him while earmarking the saved money elsewhere.

Regardless of how the situation with Brown and the Chiefs ends up, Veach has sent a clear message over the past two offseasons: He has a price and won’t negotiate past it.

Three years ago, Kansas City kept its team together in the pursuit of further greatness and ultimately failed.

This time, the Chiefs appear hell-bent on being more proactive, trusting themselves to find answers that exist but are not yet easily seen.