It’s rare that movement on the NFL’s offensive tackle market impacts the first round of the draft less than a week before it commences.
Yet that’s precisely what occurred Friday afternoon, when the Baltimore Ravens traded Orlando Brown Jr. to the Kansas City Chiefs as part of a package that brought an additional first-rounder to Charm City while the two-time defending AFC champions recouped a Round 2 choice from the Ravens.
Also atypical to see a pair of powerhouses in cahoots like this, but K.C. further solidified an offensive line that was its undoing in Super Bowl 55, while Baltimore bolstered its draft options while solving a looming personnel issue.
Still, not everyone came out ahead in the aftermath of Friday’s transaction …
Brown: While filling in for injured All-Pro LT Ronnie Stanley most of last season, Brown was reminded of personal goals and the legacy his late father desired for him – a career spent at the O-line’s most prestigious position. Orlando “Zeus” Brown spent the majority of his NFL career playing opposite Ravens Hall of Fame LT Jonathan Ogden. After earning Pro Bowl honors in Stanley’s stead in 2020, Brown made it known he wanted to remain on the left side, where he was a unanimous first-team All-American at Oklahoma and allowed one sack of Baker Mayfield in 2017. “(My father) always told me, ‘Don’t settle for playing right tackle. Make sure that when it comes time and you get to every level, you’re playing left,’ ” Brown told NFL Media this offseason, after he’d requested a trade.
His wish granted, Brown (6-8, 345) lands with another high-octane offense but will now be showcased as the bodyguard for QB Patrick Mahomes, arguably the league’s premier player. If Brown, a third-round pick in 2018 following a poor scouting combine but a Pro Bowl right tackle in 2019, sustains success while safeguarding Mahomes’ blind side, he stands to cash in. Due $3.4 million in the final year of his rookie deal, he should be in line for a huge payday next spring (if not sooner) whether the Chiefs franchise him, extend him or let him hit the open market – which has dictated the four best-paid blockers are left tackles, including Stanley, whose average annual compensation is $19.8 million.
Mahomes: Already playing on a badly injured toe in the Super Bowl 55 loss to Tampa Bay, the former league MVP was hit nine times and sacked thrice behind Kansas City’s patchwork line. But Brown appears to the icing on the cake after GM Brett Veach signed O-linemen Joe Thuney, Kyle Long and Austin Blythe. Laurent Duvernay-Tardif and Lucas Niang are also expected back after opting out in 2020.
Eric DeCosta: It’s never ideal to export a Pro Bowler, but the Ravens GM has done a nice job turning a tricky situation to his advantage. When it became obvious Brown wouldn’t be satisfied remaining at right tackle, DeCosta got the right offer – flipping a former third-rounder in his walk year into a first-rounder at a time when the draft is flush with solid tackle prospects. DeCosta, who also needs to reload his pass rush, now owns nine picks, including multiple ones in Rounds 1, 3 and 4.
Alejandro Villanueva: Currently a free agent, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ former Pro Bowl left tackle will jump to the rival Ravens and replace Brown, per ESPN. Villanueva will remain with a winner in a familiar division and gets two cracks annually at the team that let him walk.
Lamar Jackson: From a macro level, his supporting cast could improve courtesy of DeCosta’s expanded draft stockpile. Negotiating a long-term contract may also now be easier since the Ravens no longer have to account for an extension for Brown as part of their long-term salary cap calculus.
Lamar Jackson: From a micro level – nice as Villanueva, 32, and draft considerations are – Baltimore has blown up what was surely the league’s top tackle tandem. Brown, a devastating run blocker on a team that’s relied heavily on its ground game, was also a very close friend of Jackson’s and likely to be sorely missed both on the field and in the locker room.
Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz: The starting tackles for the Chiefs’ Super Bowl 54 triumph, injuries prevented them from playing in Super Bowl 55. Both were released March 11. Though it seemed a return might be possible for either player – Fisher, a two-time Pro Bowl left tackle, is recovering from an Achilles tear suffered in the AFC championship game, while Schwartz needed back surgery – it’s just about a foregone conclusion now that both will have to continue their careers elsewhere.
AFC aspirants: While it’s hardly fair to handicap the conference as a two-horse race between the Chiefs and Ravens – the Bills, Titans and Browns are all likely to remain legitimate threats in 2021 with other teams surely ascend – it does seem like Kansas City has recovered quite nicely from its Super Bowl embarrassment and will be a prohibitive favorite to win a third straight Lamar Hunt Trophy. The Ravens have gone 35-13 in three regular seasons since drafting Brown but have been one of the most adaptable franchises in the NFL during their 25 seasons. Expect them to remain at the forefront among the Chiefs’ challengers less than two years after running roughshod over the AFC courtesy of a 14-2 regular season.
First-round tackle prospects: With Brown plugging Kansas City’s biggest hole, and Villanueva poised to backfill him in Baltimore, there suddenly seems to be fewer open jobs for this draft’s top offensive tackle prospects. USC’s Alijah Vera-Tucker, Virginia Tech’s Christian Darrisaw, Oklahoma State’s Teven Jenkins, Michigan’s Jalen Mayfield and Notre Dame’s Liam Eichenberg all arguably have Round 1 NFL ability – several linked to the Chiefs during mock draft season – but it now seems increasingly inevitable a few of them won’t get picked until Friday.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.