“It is far better to grasp the universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.” – Carl Sagan
It goes well beyond hyperbole to say that CY2020 didn’t unfold as most had hoped. As COVID-19 laid waste to sports protocols and norms for months, players and fans were left in limbo, clawing for scraps of information and league directives regarding when and how “normalcy” might be attained on the courts and fields again. The NFL should probably be commended for holding forth on their regular season and playoff schedules, even at the cost of sacrificing the preseason. Really, the biggest NFL casualty of 2020 was aesthetically-pleasing football, at least early on, as teams scrambled to balance their rosters and promote new schemes without the benefit of trying them against actual competition.
2020, for whatever reason, also produced a lot of injuries and virus-related absences. The 2020 Ravens certainly experienced their share of both, at one point dropping four of five consecutive games due to roster depletion and inadequate fill-ins. The Curious Case of Orlando Brown Jr., the team’s right offensive tackle when the season started, does not really qualify as one of those.
Brown, the son of former longtime NFL RT Orlando Brown Sr, who played extensively for both Cleveland and Baltimore during his nine-year career, is roughly the same size and girth as his late father, albeit without his father’s coarse disposition. Brown Jr. is arguably more talented than his father was, possessing solid movement and “sticky” ability – a term used in OL circles to describe blockers that are tough to shed. Picked later than projected in 2018 (third round, #83 overall), the younger Brown has always played with a sense of revenge for his draft-day slide. Paired with his obvious physical qualifications for the position, Brown Jr. locked down the starting RT job halfway through his rookie season and earned Pro Bowl honors there in 2019. His future seemed bright, although the Ravens have tacitly acknowledged he was playing himself out of their ability to re-sign him when his rookie contract expired. The team then committed five years and lots of money to incumbent LT Ronnie Stanley, considered one of the league’s better at his position, figuring they’d secure control of stalwart “bookend” tackles for at least a couple of seasons before Brown Jr.’s bill, so to speak, came due.
Apparently Brown Jr. wasn’t willing to wait that long.
Shortly after Stanley signed his new deal, he suffered a season-ending ankle injury, forcing the Ravens to move Brown Jr. to LT as the obvious choice to fill in. While the team’s interior blocking remained suspect all season, Brown Jr. acquitted himself very well on the left side, earning another Pro Bowl berth and garnering team accolades for his selfless play. Except..
Shortly after the Ravens’ second-round playoff loss, Brown declared, through social media, that he was now “a LEFT tackle“, immediately causing consternation in the Ravens facility and throughout the fanbase. Surely Brown Jr. was aware the Ravens had just re-upped Stanley to a large deal? This was all post-playoff loss posturing and frustration, right? Followup posts, although they appeared heartfelt and referenced his late father’s wishes for him, seemed a little dubious in the face of the obvious financial increase a move to LT would conceivably bring.
Brown Jr.’s highly-scrutinized Twitter posts notwithstanding, the Ravens have no choice but to acknowledge Brown Jr.’s assertion while embarking down one of two paths: 1) Either trade Brown Jr. now, preferably before the draft, and exact a maximum return for him; or 2) wait him out until his rookie deal expires after the 2021 season. The team has been exploring the former, with some interesting scenarios emerging, but it’s believed any package would have to include at least one first-round pick in April, and possibly more draft capital. The more likely path is option #2, as it’s considered doubtful Brown Jr. would sit out an entire season on the eve of his first unrestricted free agency foray just to prove a point, and any agent that would advise him to do so should rightfully be fired immediately.
To be clear, the Ravens are under no obligation to accommodate Brown Jr. He has not made any specific demands to the team beyond a general trade request, so it would appear he realizes any opportunities to continue playing LT in Baltimore are contingent upon moving Stanley instead. To be blunt, that isn’t happening, so Brown Jr.’s best option would be to show up, play out the season, be a good teammate, and sign a massive deal with a new team in 2022. While it may not be ideal as far as showcasing’s Brown Jr.’s ability to protect “the blind side”, his 2020 performance remains archived on game film, and it’s doubtful another season at RT will dent his reputation much if at all. Without a suitable trade partner, Brown Jr. may have no choice but to accept his fate and dutifully play out his time in Baltimore.
Perhaps it’s not really a dilemma. Let’s just call it a complication.