Last week, the Chiefs and left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. tried to work out a long-term deal before the window closed on multi-year contracts for franchise-tagged players. The effort failed, and the team reportedly isn’t happy about it.
Via Pete Grathoff of the Kansas City Star, Jeff Chadiha recently explained on NFL Network that the Chiefs are frustrated with Brown’s refusal to take the last, best offer.
“There was frustration and there was disappointment,” Chadiha said, according to Grathoff. “They really like Orlando Brown Jr., they love having him be a part of this team, but the money he was asking for was too high for them. They feel like they don’t want to not have stability at left tackle here, but they also don’t want to pay top-of-the-market money for a player that they don’t think is the best player at his position in the NFL.”
When it comes to converting the franchise tag into a long-term deal, historically it’s been not about making the player the highest paid at his position. It’s been about ensuring that the player gets two years of the franchise tag fully guaranteed at signing. And that’s what the Chiefs tried to do.
Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the final offer to Brown included $38 million fully guaranteed at signing. That’s more than the two-year tag amount for Brown; he’ll make $16.662 million this year and $19.99 million in 2023, for a total of $36.65 million.
The deal also included another $14.25 million in injury guarantees, which would have converted to a full guarantee in 2024.
Brown wanted, we’re told, a $40 million signing bonus and full guarantees at signing beyond that, along with a real annual average of $25 million.
“One front office person said, ‘This isn’t the same guy that we traded for,'” Chadiha said, via Grathoff. “The feeling there is that when they got him from Baltimore is that he was going to be a team player and work with them on a team-friendly type of deal. That was not the case. Right now we’re looking at a situation where Orlando Brown probably won’t be there for training camp and may not be there for Week One.”
That’s the risk, frankly, of trading for a player without doing a new deal on the way through the door. It has happened multiple times in recent years; Laremy Tunsil went to the Texans without a new deal, Jalen Ramsey went to the Rams without a new deal, and Jamal Adams went to the Seahawks without a new deal. The passage of time after the trade, if the player remains healthy and effective, will drive the final price up. By waiting, the Texans, Rams, and Seahawks all paid more than they would have, if they’d done the deal at the time of the trade.
Although Brown’s refusal to accept the best offer represents a departure from the usual formula for turning a franchise tag into a long-term deal, the circumstances could be changing. The tag for tackles, at $16.665 million in 2022, lags behind the top of the market, which has crossed $23 million. Also, the cap is poised to keep going up and up. Brown’s deal, if he’d taken it, possibly would have been obsolete by next year.
Through it all, it’s important to remember that the Chiefs decided to use the franchise tag in order to keep Brown from becoming an unrestricted free agent in March. The team initiated a process that gives Brown the right, if he so chooses, to make $36.65 million over the next two years and then become an unrestricted free agent, at the age of 28.
For any franchise-tagged player, here’s the question. Will the team make an offer to the player that gets him to give up his ability to go year-to-year for two years, before becoming a free agent? (As explained in Playmakers, any player who is willing and able to go year-to-year for two years can turn the tables on his team, and possibly break the bank.) Brown has opted to reject the final offer of the Chiefs and take $36.65 million over the next two years, and then to enter the open market on the first day of the 2024 spending spree — when the cap may be $30 million or $40 million (or more) higher than it currently is.
The Chiefs may not be happy about that, but Brown has every right to not be happy about being tagged. Once the Chiefs choose to take things in that direction, he acquires the right to say, “I’ll just put in two more years and go.”