Credit where credit is due: Orlando Brown Jr. has been playing very well for the Kansas City Chiefs as of late.
Since Week 5, Brown has been Pro Football Focus's ninth-rated tackle and has posted the seventh-best pass blocking grade among tackles with at least 100 snaps. While he has allowed a pair of sacks and 15 pressures in that time, those pressure stats are over a staggering 316 opportunities against him — which is by far the most among tackles in that span.
In short, Brown is playing up to the billing that was promised when the Chiefs traded for him.
This improvement in play is helped along by Patrick Mahomes, as Mahomes has improved his pocket presence by a significant margin. Brown still does struggle with the deep drops Mahomes can have but with the star quarterback cutting down on those, that has let Brown play his type of game frequently. If the two can continue these efforts, it is fair to think the Chiefs have found their franchise left tackle.
The thing with franchise left tackles, though, is they earn a hefty sum of money. Considering Brown's play so far, what would his contract look like? First, an understanding of the Chiefs' future salary cap space is needed.
A more extensive breakdown will be possible after the season, but the short of it is that the Chiefs will have room to play with, although it might quickly disappear. If the Chiefs make the expected moves of cutting Frank Clark (with a June 1 designation) and Anthony Hitchens, they will have around $55.5 million in salary cap room. However, the Chiefs only have 26 players signed at this salary cap number. If one assumes the rest of the players on the roster will be minimum salary players, which is the best-case scenario, the Chiefs' salary cap ends up at $36.2M.
There are other ways for the team to make room, such as extensions, restructures and more. Despite having a fair bit of cap space to work with, players like Tyrann Mathieu, Derrick Nnadi, and Charvarius Ward are free agents, as well as the aforementioned Brown. While the Chiefs will have money, it may go away somewhat quickly depending on who they bring back.
This makes the Brown contract calculus a bit dicey. One option the Chiefs have is franchise tagging him to the tune of $16.5M. There are multiple issues with this path, though. For one, Brown might view a franchise tag as a slight against him. Teams usually do not want to upset a franchise player like that. Second, the franchise tag number is probably lower than whatever Brown will make in his first year under a new contract.
For example, Joe Thuney’s $80M contract only has a salary cap hit of $4.5 million this year. Finally, if the Chiefs wait to give Brown an extension, it might end up costing them more money down the road. It makes sense for the Chiefs to just rip the band-aid off this offseason if Brown continues to grow and perform at left tackle. This means he will likely get a $100M deal.
The first thing to consider with a new contract for Brown is the fact he was determined to play left tackle. If Brown wants to be thought of as a left tackle, the premium for signing a franchise one is even higher. Luckily, there are a few left tackle contracts recently minted that can help us see what the market is like right now.
The one contract many Chiefs fans will be familiar with is Trent Williams’ contract. The six-year, $138M contract lured Williams back to the 49ers while the Chiefs heavily pursued him. His contract, however, is very deceiving at first glance. The last three years, where the majority of the money is, have little guarantees in them. This means that relatively early in the deal, the San Francisco 49ers could move on from Williams. That effectively makes his contract extension around a three-year, $66M contract.
Another tackle contract signed recently was David Bakhtiari's. Bakhtiari signed a four-year, $92M extension with the Green Bay Packers last winter right before tearing his ACL. Like Williams, a lot of the money is backloaded into later years, making the extension less than what it seems to be at first glance.
What does that mean for Brown? It's likely he will want to slightly eclipse his former teammate Ronnie Stanley’s deal (for obvious reasons). Stanley’s contract was an extension on his rookie deal, good for five years and $98M. Brown will probably want around five years and $100M.
Like Williams and Bakhtiari, however, the Chiefs can wave the magic salary cap wand and have a lot of this money be fake — or at least easy to be disposed of. A contract structure similar to that of Thuney, with a first year being around $8M and then jumping in year two, seems all but likely. This will allow the Chiefs to fit Brown’s deal under the 2022 salary cap and keep him a Chief for a long time. Here is a full guesstimate of what that would look like:
- Five years, $102M in total money. $57M total guaranteed, $35M signing bonus.
- Year 1: $1M base salary, $7M in prorated bonus, $8M salary cap hit.
- Year 2: $3M base salary, $7M in prorated bonus, $15M salary cap hit.
- Year 3: $8M base salary, $7M in prorated bonus, $20M salary cap hit.
- Year 4: $10M base salary, $7M in prorated bonus, $27M salary cap hit.
- Year 5: $25M base salary, $7M in prorated bonus, $32M salary cap hit.
Brown would get the largest signing bonus ever for a tackle under this contract, with the previous best being $30M. His year one, two, and three salaries would also be guaranteed for total guarantees of $57M.
Like many NFL contracts, the Chiefs can get out in year four if need be. With Brown’s cap hits being $8M, $15M, and $20M before then, that gives the Chiefs years in which Brown’s contract is not that large. Those years also coincide with Creed Humphrey, Trey Smith, and Lucas Niang’s rookie contracts.
If Brown continues to play like he has for the last month and a half to finish out this year, it is almost a guarantee that he will be receiving a hefty check from the Chiefs this offseason. His play so far has earned it, and locking in a franchise left tackle to protect Mahomes will help many in the Chiefs front office sleep soundly. Context is important, but Brett Veach might have earned himself a nice pat on the back for acquiring Brown earlier this year.