Bears Insider

Brown Jr.'s free-agent market could play into Bears' hands

Bears Insider
Orlando Brown

The opening salvo of the Bears' free agency plan arrived with all the force of a ripple brushing the Lake Michigan shoreline on a breezy Chicago afternoon.

Tremaine Edmunds and T.J. Edwards shore up the linebacking corps, but the expected big-name offensive and defensive line additions never materialized. The Bears lost out on Mike McGlinchey and watched every other marquee free agent of a weak class sign elsewhere except one.

Orlando Brown Jr. is the lone big fish in a shallow free-agent pond as the new league year officially begins Wednesday.

All has been quiet on the Brown front. The 26-year-old would appear to be a perfect fit for the Bears to soup up a pass-protection unit that struggled mightily to protect quarterback Justin Fields in 2022.

Bears general manager Ryan Poles should know Brown well from their time together in Kansas City. Poles was part of the Chiefs' front office that traded a first-round pick to acquire Brown from the Baltimore Ravens before the 2021 season.

If the Bears really wanted Brown, they could have backed the Brinks truck into his driveway on Monday at 11 a.m. central standard time and called it a day. They instead went after McGlinchey, a right tackle with familiarity in the zone run scheme. The Denver Broncos won that fight.

It's easy to tie the Bears to Brown. Chicago still has $44.5 million in cap space and, if nothing else, the Bears are an easy team for Brown's agent to use as leverage to drive up the price.


So the question remains: Why haven't the Bears signed Brown?

This isn't to say that they won't. But as of Wednesday morning, things have been as quiet as a church mouse on the Brown-Bears front.

There could be a few reasons for that.

First, many NFL evaluators view Brown as a right tackle, not a left. Brown started his career as a right tackle in Baltimore and was ultimately traded because he considers himself a blindside protector. That perception has certainly already impacted Brown's market and could continue to do so.

Poles has a good grasp of who Brown is and what role suits him best. He also likely understands how other teams across the league view the 26-year-old. Perhaps the Bears' general manager believes the robust market Brown anticipated won't materialize, and the Bears could capitalize once reality sinks in.

At the NFL Scouting Combine, Poles discussed finding value in free agency. He understood there is no value to be found on Day 1, but such deals could eventually materialize as things unfold.

Could that be the case with Brown?

The Bears still have around $44 million available in salary cap space (before factoring in the signing of running back Travis Homer).

As cap space disappears, the Bears might be the only team with the room to give Brown a deal he finds acceptable. But he might have to meet them in the middle.

On Wednesday, Brown went on NFL Live and said contract negotiations were "going well" but didn't give much more detail.

The Bears have a gaping hole at right tackle. Brown, as stated, wants to play and be paid as a left.

This is where the final hitch comes into play.

The Bears liked the progress they saw from fifth-round rookie left tackle Braxton Jones. He struggled mightily to open the season, especially against the bullrush.

Poles praised Jones for his improvement throughout the season. In Jones' last four games, he gave up just seven pressures and two sacks. If the Bears are confident Jones can take a leap after a full offseason, they might be resistant to signing Brown and trying to move Jones to the right side.

There's potentially an argument to be made that Jones, given his age and contract, is a better value than Brown. Last season, Brown gave up 47 pressures. Jones only gave up 40. But pressure and sack numbers don't tell the whole story, given how much more the Chiefs passed than the Bears last season.

That's where the "true pass set" numbers come in.

In true pass sets last season, Brown allowed 30 pressures and three sacks in 301 opportunities, per PFF. Jones allowed 30 pressures and six sacks in 190 opportunities.

Among tackles with at least 500 pass-blocking snaps last season, Jones ranks second to last (46) in PFF's pass-blocking efficiency metric at 90.5. Brown ranks 27th at 94.5.

Per TruMedia, Jones had a pass-block win rate of 92.8 percent last season, slightly better than Brown's mark of 91.8.

Given that Jones' cap hit is $944K and Brown's is projected to be over $20 million, you can see where there could be a potential tough calculus for the Bears.

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If the Bears don't land Brown, I'd venture to guess it will have more to do with fit and money than Jones. Jones had a solid rookie season but didn't show enough to pass on a long-term answer at left tackle.

The more likely scenario is either: Poles doesn't view Brown as a fit or he's waiting for that number to come down, knowing he's Brown's best chance to get the lucrative deal he covets.

Brown bet on himself when he turned down a long-term offer from the Chiefs last offseason. Poles is well-versed in his talent and fit in the Bears' system.

Poles is searching for value. Brown is hunting a long-term left tackle deal. What appears to be a slow-moving market might just wind up helping the Bears land the offensive lineman they desperately need.

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