The Cincinnati Bengals didn’t go wild in free agency this NFL offseason, but the team did make some bold moves. The biggest move was signing former Kansas City Chiefs left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. to a four-year deal. Here’s why this was the riskiest Bengals free agent signing of the 2023 NFL offseason.

LT Orlando Brown Jr. is the Bengals’ riskiest free agency move of the 2023 NFL offseason

Before starting in on why Orlando Brown Jr. is the riskiest Bengals free agent signing of the 2023 NFL offseason, let’s discuss why the move makes sense for the team.

The Bengals offensive line struggled with injuries last season, and even though tackles La’el Collins and Jonah Williams played 15 and 16 games, respectively, they were banged up for much of the campaign. Collins also underwent postseason knee surgery to repair torn ligaments suffered in Week 16.

Superstar quarterback Joe Burrow is the franchise, and while his 41 sacks taken this season were down from his league-leading 51 in 2021 and season-ending 32 in his rookie season, that’s still way too many hits for a franchise QB to take.

The Bengals’ free agent signings needed to upgrade the O-line, and Brown Jr. should do that.

However, it’s not without risks.

There is no set timetable for Collins’ return, so the team is short at tackle, even with the signing of Cody Ford from the Arizona Cardinals, who can play tackle, although he’s mostly played guard in his NFL career.

Also, the Orland Brown Jr. Bengals signing blindsided (pun intended) both tackles, and Williams requested a trade shortly after. Cincinnati has not granted that request, and it now seems like he will start the season at right tackle. Whether he’s happy about that or if he can play the position remains unknown.

So, the first risk in bringing Brown Jr. on board is that the team gained one tackle while alienating two others. If the move brings discontent to the unit, it could ultimately backfire on the Bengals despite being a likely talent upgrade.

Risk factor two is that Brown Jr. has had issues with coaching and management before in regard to what position he plays. He was at odds with his first team, the Baltimore Ravens, about whether he was better at right tackle (which he started his career as) or (his preference and the more highly-paid) left tackle.

Reports in the 2023 offseason also noted that one of the reasons the Chiefs let him go and that he remained unsigned longer than a 27-year-old starting tackle should, is that much of the league sees him as a right tackle.

Related to this issue is the fact that while the Chiefs had one of the top lines in the league last season and ultimately won the Super Bowl, Brown Jr. was the worst player on the line, according to scouts and analytics. And he was an issue on a line that protected Patrick Mahomes, one of the best and most elusive signal-callers in the NFL.

Brown Jr. has now blocked almost exclusively for Mahomes and Lamar Jackson. These are mobile — and in Jackson’s case, scrambling — QBs who don’t need or want to necessarily sit in the pocket for four or more seconds on every pass play.

On the other hand, as good as Burrow was last season maneuvering around the pocket and even making some shockingly timely scrambles, he is a pocket passer at his core. We’ll have to see if Brown Jr. can hold up blocking for that type of player. And if he can’t protect Burrow’s blindside, we already know moving him to another position on the line won’t go over well.

Finally, there is the money.

The Orlando Brown Jr. Bengals’ free-agent signing actually isn’t a huge risk from a money standpoint, but it is a big pledge for a team that hasn’t made this type of commitment often in its history.

The reported deal is a four-year, $64,092,000 contract with a $31,100,000 signing bonus, $31,100,000 guaranteed as signing bonus, per Spotrac. That’s the largest-ever signing bonus for an offensive lineman in league history ($100,000 more than Indianapolis Colts guard Quenton Nelson).

Like most NFL contracts, though, that doesn’t tell the whole tale. The deal is essentially for two years and $42,346,000 with an out in the 2025 NFL offseason. That’s not terrible at all, especially for a starting left tackle.

That said, the Bengals are not a rich team by any means, and they have some major contracts coming up. And anything that interferes with locking up players like Joe Burrow, Tee Higgins, and Ja’Marr Chase is a risky proposition.