Orlando Brown Jr. is the Bengals’ answer, but his arrival raises other O-line questions

The contract agreement with Orlando Brown Jr. on Wednesday yielded the answers to many questions such as, “What are the Bengals up to?” and “What are they waiting for?” And the time-honored one dripping with fear and walking on a loop for three years, “What are they going to do to protect Joe Burrow?”

After losing to safeties Jessie Bates III and Vonn Bell, tight end Hayden Hurst and running back Samaje Perine in the first three days of free choice and failing to add a single outside play, the Bengals worked late into the Wednesday night to make a deal for the best offensive. lineman and No. 4 free agent overall in this year’s class, earning Brown $64.1 million over four years. That falls just short of Geno Atkins’ $65.3 million four-year extension as the largest non-quarterback contract in franchise history.

The $31 million signing bonus the Bengals are giving to the 6-foot-8, 360-pound four-time Pro Bowler is the highest in NFL history for a tackle that could soon protect the league’s highest-paid quarterback.

But while the swing-for-the-fences move answers the biggest question about how serious the Bengals are when it comes to protecting Burrow and maximizing the fleeting chance of having a franchise quarterback and elite guns all under affordable cap numbers to play, it creates a new subset of questions.

Let’s go through some of the biggest.

Where will Brown play?

The answer may seem obvious, given how rarely teams invest so much money in a player and then ask him to switch positions, but Brown started his career as a good tackle. He did not switch to the left side until Raven’s All-Pro tackle Ronnie Stanley suffered a season-ending knee injury two days after signing a five-year, $98.8 million extension. And many people believe it to be his best and most natural position. None of those people work within the walls of Paycor Stadium.

News of Brown’s deal with the Bengals was less than five minutes old when 26-year-old NFL Network tackle Mike Garafolo expressed how grateful he was to be given the opportunity to carry on his father’s legacy as a left tackle .

Then, Thursday morning, offensive line coach Frank Pollack made it clear that his view aligns with Brown’s while appearing on Bengals radio analyst Dave Lapham’s “In the Trenches” podcast.

“He’ll be our left gear,” Pollack said. “He’s a one of a kind guy. He’s played on both sides and been to the Pro Bowl. That’s impressive. But we brought him here to be our left tackle.

Brown’s desire to play left tackle, the position his father played for nine seasons with the Ravens and Browns, led to his departure from Baltimore. After replacing Stanley at left tackle and going to the Pro Bowl, Brown wanted to stay on that side, but the Ravens had invested nearly $100 million in Stanley, so they traded Brown to the Chiefs before the 2021 season.

Two more Pro Bowls followed, making Brown the only tackle in the league to have been voted to each of the past four. And the Bengals are hoping he can double that run during the four-year deal they’re giving him to anchor the left side of a line with two other Super Bowl champs at center Ted Karras and right guard Alex Cappa; a left guard in Cordell Volson, who started every game as a rookie; and an opening on the right tackle with no shortage of options.


Orlando Brown Jr. takes Bengals protection of Joe Burrow to the next level

What does this mean for Williams?

It’s not like pursuing Brown was a grand plan and the Bengals played coy at the NFL Scouting Combine when they talked about how free agency would look very different this year. Pollack said the deal for Brown has more or less come to fruition in recent days. But every time Jonah Williams’ name came up in Indianapolis, the response fell far short of anything you’d consider an endorsement. There was a lot of kissing and petting, ifs and buts.

Pollack confirmed the plan is to move Williams to the right side. The 2019 first-round NFL Draft pick will net $12.6 million this year, all of which is guaranteed as part of the fifth-year option the Bengals picked up in late 2021. Williams dislocated both kneecaps last year and had surgery last month to repair the most recent, which took place in the wild card win against the Ravens.

Jonah Williams will play for his fifth year in 2023. (Vincent Carchietta/USA Today)

Last month, Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan downplayed the possibility of Williams moving to right.

‘It would be difficult. He’s actually spent his entire career, mostly as a pro, as a left tackle,” Callahan said. “Moving him would probably be quite difficult. It’s also probably not something he would necessarily be excited about. I’m sure as a first team player he would do it if it was best for us. But that’s a tough one switch for a guy who has played a lot of left tackles over the course of his career and very minimal right, he did some in Alabama, but for a pro that’s a pretty tough switch.

Those comments, along with Thursday’s signing of Cody Ford — a 2019 second-round pick who played tackle against Oklahoma’s Brown — make one wonder if the Bengals will consider trading Williams. It doesn’t feel threatening, not with Williams and La’el Collins coming up with the right tackle from the surgery. But teams are always looking for offensive linemen, and if the Bengals go into training camp and Williams isn’t a clear No. 1 option, Collins is ahead of schedule and another team has to tackle with an injury, the Bengals would be $12 .6 million off this year’s cap and get a player in another position of distress or a draft pick.

If the Bengals can turn Billy Price into BJ Hill, imagine what they can get for a first round tackle with 42 regular seasons and five postseason starts.

Add Jackson Carman, D’Ante Smith, Hakeem Adeniji and Isaiah Prince to the mix and you’ve got yourself an incredibly crowded competition to tackle the right way. That’s not to say they’re all lining up as equals to start training camp, but the Bengals have invested a lot of time developing that young core, and Carman’s performance in the divisional playoff victory at Buffalo is proof that first impressions can and will be. change.

Is there another tackle in the game at number 28 in the draft?

Absolute. Whatever the upcoming season has in store for Williams, those conversations in Indy suggest he’s not in the Bengals’ long-term plans. And Collins may not be in the long-term or short-term plans either. Adding Brown narrows the pool of candidates to 28, where the Bengals no longer have to play with the idea of ​​drafting a left tackle and letting him play on the right for a year before returning in 2024 goes to the left.

Instead, they can target someone who played the right tackle in college and keep him in his natural position and see how he compares to Williams in camp. Tennessee’s Darnell Wright and Ohio State’s Dawand Jones played right tackle last season, and if the Bengals want to keep the Oklahoma train rolling, Anton Harrison is a left tackle who may be better suited to playing at right in the NFL.

(Top photo: Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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