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Thursday, March 30, 2023

Orlando Brown is expected to reach free agency — another big name for the Chicago Bears to consider for protecting Justin Fields – Boston Herald

While the free-agent class set to hit the market March 15 did not generate a lot of buzz last week at the scouting combine in Indianapolis, it will look a little better when the NFL’s shopping season kicks off.

Offensive tackle Orlando Brown is expected to become one of the more coveted players in the marketplace after word spread Monday that the Kansas City Chiefs will not use the franchise tag for a second year to keep him. It’s possible the sides could reach an agreement before the new league year opens, but Brown would be eliminating 31 other teams from bidding on him if that happens.

The Chiefs traded for Brown in April 2021 after quarterback Patrick Mahomes had to run for his life in a Super Bowl loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The addition of Brown was just one part of an instant makeover for the Kansas City offensive line.

The Chiefs traded first-, third- and fourth-round picks in 2021 and a 2022 fifth-rounder to the Baltimore Ravens for Brown, a second-round pick in 2021 and a sixth-rounder in 2022. Brown started all but one game in Kansas City the last two seasons and earned his third and fourth Pro Bowl selections.

The Chicago Bears don’t need to do homework on Brown as general manager Ryan Poles and co-director of player personnel Trey Koziol were in Kansas City when the 2021 deal was made. The question is whether the Bears want to pay a premium price for a left tackle who is good but perhaps not elite or give Braxton Jones the opportunity to continue to grow into the position.

Brown, who turns 27 in May, played right tackle for the Ravens, and one reason he wanted out of Baltimore was for the opportunity to move to the left side.

“I think he’s actually better at right tackle,” an AFC West personnel man said. “Plays too high and can struggle to redirect versus counter moves. He even gets walked back on occasion.”

It will be interesting to see what strategy Poles takes into free agency. Some have talked about the Bears getting a premium return for trading the No. 1 draft pick — more value than traditional draft trade charts reflect — because it’s the first pick. There’s a similar premium for the top players in free agency, and buyers know that.

Most expected the Chiefs would wind up retaining Brown, and that still could happen. The deadline for franchise or transition tags is 3 p.m. Tuesday. Brown earned $16.6 million last season, and a second tag would cost nearly $20 million. The Chiefs made a difficult decision last offseason to trade wide receiver Tyreek Hill, and Mahomes was the league MVP and won his second Super Bowl.

Another quality offensive lineman appears headed to the open market. The Jacksonville Jaguars announced they used the franchise tag on tight end Evan Engram, meaning right tackle Jawaan Taylor is expected to make it to free agency. The 25-year-old did not miss a game the last four seasons and could wind up the highest-paid free-agent right tackle ahead of Mike McGlinchey of the San Francisco 49ers and Kaleb McGary of the Atlanta Falcons.

The Bears are expected to make moves to improve their offensive line, and Poles is either trying to hide in the weeds when he talks about being draft-driven and very selective in free agency or he’s so early in the rebuilding process that he believes in being prudent and calculated when it comes to spending.

Meanwhile, the Chiefs reportedly are expected to release three-time Pro Bowl defensive end Frank Clark in a cost-cutting move. Clark is one of many marquee names who could be cut loose — why nearly all sources point to salary-cap casualties as the place to find the best players this offseason.

That gets tricky for Poles and the Bears because it stands to reason most of the big money he spends would be on players just entering their prime seasons.

It seems almost certain the Bears will put their money where their mouth is this year when they talk about protecting quarterback Justin Fields. A year ago, that meant spending $7.5 million on Riley Reiff and $8 million over two years for Lucas Patrick.

The numbers for new names this year could be much, much larger.


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