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

Wednesday’s contract agreement with Orlando Brown Jr. provided the answers to many questions such as, “What are the Bengals doing?” and “What are they waiting for?” And the venerable three-year-old dripping with fear and walking on a loop: “What are they going to do to protect Joe Burrow?”

After losing safes Jessie Bates III and Vonn Bell, tight end Hayden Hurst and Samaje Perine in the first three days of free agency and not adding a single outside part, the Bengals worked late into Wednesday night to secure a deal for the best offensive to secure lineman and no. 4 free agent overall in this year’s class, earning Brown $64.1 million over four years. That narrowly trails Geno Atkins’ four-year, $65.3 million extension as the largest non-quarterback contract in franchise history.

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

But while the swing-for-the-fences move answers the biggest question about how serious the Bengals are about protecting Burrow and maximizing the fleeting opportunity to have a franchise quarterback and elite guns, all playing under affordable ceilings, he creates a new subset of questions.

Let’s go through some of the biggest.

Where will Brown play?

The answer might seem obvious since teams rarely invest so much money in a player and then ask him to switch positions, but Brown started his career as a right tackle. He only switched to left flank when Ravens All-Pro suffered a season-ending knee injury against Ronnie Stanley two days after signing a five-year, $98.8 million extension. And many people believe that it is his best and most natural position. None of these people work within the walls of Paycor Stadium.

News of Brown’s deal with the Bengals was less than five minutes old when NFL Network tackle Mike Garafolo, 26, said how grateful he was to have the opportunity to continue his father’s legacy as a left tackle.

Then on Thursday morning, offensive line coach Frank Pollack made it clear his vision aligned with Brown’s when he appeared on Bengali radio analyst Dave Lapham’s podcast “In the Trenches.”

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

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

Two more Pro Bowls followed, making Brown the only tackle in the league to be picked to each of the last four. And the Bengals hope he can double that run during the four-year deal they’re giving him to anchor the left side of a line that includes two other Super Bowl champions at center Ted Karras and right guard Alex Cappa. a left guard in Cordell Volson who started every game as a rookie; and a right-tackle opening 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 as if pursuing Brown was a big plan and the Bengals played coy at the NFL Scouting Combine when discussing how the free hand would look very different this year. Pollack said the deal for Brown somehow came about in the past few days. But every time Jonah Williams’ name came up in Indianapolis, the responses fell far short of what would be called endorsements. There has been a lot of hemming and hemming, ifs and buts.

Pollack confirmed the plan to move Williams to the right flank. The 2019 first-round NFL draft pick will rake in $12.6 million this year, all guaranteed as part of the fifth-year option the Bengals will receive in late 2021. Williams dislocated both kneecaps last year and underwent surgery last month to fix the last one that occurred in the wildcard win over the Ravens.

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

Last month at the combine, Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan downplayed the possibility of Williams transitioning to the right tackle.

“It would be hard. He’s really spent his entire career, especially as a pro, as a left tackle,” Callahan said. “Moving him would probably be quite difficult. It’s also probably not something he’d necessarily be excited about. I’m sure as a team first guy he would if it was for the best for us. But it’s a tough switch for a guy who’s snapped a lot in left tackle and very little in right throughout his career. He’s done a few in Alabama, but it’s a pretty tough move for a pro.”

Those comments, coupled with Thursday’s signing of Cody Ford — a 2019 second-round pick playing Brown Tackle in Oklahoma — make you wonder if the Bengals will consider a trade with Williams. It doesn’t feel immediate, not with Williams and La’el Collins coming off surgery. But teams are always looking for offensive linemen, and if the Bengals come to training camp and Williams isn’t a clear No. 1 option, Collins is ahead of schedule and another team has to go down with an injury that could cost the Bengals $12.6 million clear this year’s cap and get either a player in another position of need or a draft pick.

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

Throw Jackson Carman, D’Ante Smith, Hakeem Adeniji and Isaiah Prince into the mix and you’ve got incredibly crowded competition in right tackle. That’s not to say they all line up the same way to start training camp, but the Bengals have put a lot of time into developing this young core, and Carman’s performance in the division playoff win in Buffalo is proof that first impressions is possible and it does change.

Is there a tackle on #28 in the draft?

Absolutely. Whatever the upcoming season holds for Williams, these talks in Indy suggest he’s not in the Bengals’ long-term plans. And Collins may not be in the long- or short-term plans, either. The addition of Brown narrows the candidate pool to 28, where the Bengals no longer have to toy with the idea of ​​designing a left tackle and letting him play at right for a year before switching back to left in 2024.

You can instead take on someone who played proper tackle in college and hold him in his natural position and see how he compares to Williams at camp. Tennessee’s Darnell Wright and Ohio State’s Dawand Jones both played right tackle last season, and if the Bengals are looking to keep the Oklahoma train going, Anton Harrison is a left tackle that might be better suited to play on the right in to play the NFL.

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

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