The news was shocking last Wednesday surrounding free agent offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr.
No, it wasn’t surprising that the Cincinnati Bengals upgraded the blindside protection for star quarterback Joe Burrow. What was rather shocking though was the fact that the Pittsburgh Steelers were in on Brown Jr. in free agency, according to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler,
Fowler reported, via Brown’s agent Michael Portner, that the Steelers — along with the New York Jets — were in on Brown Jr. before he signed a four-year, $64 million deal with the Bengals, with $31 million guaranteed.
Steelers.com’s Bob Labriola in his Asked and Answered mailbag for the team site Tuesday morning, stated that he “would seriously doubt” the Steelers made a competitive offer for the standout left tackle.
“Based on my memory of this, the initial report of this ‘news’ described the Steelers as being ‘in on’ unrestricted free agent Orlando Brown Jr. That’s a pretty vague characterization that could mean as little as a phone call to the agent asking to be kept informed in the case of any imminent activity,” Labriola writes in his mailbag. “I would seriously doubt that being ‘in on’ Brown meant the Steelers had a competitive offer on the table or were poised to participate in a multi-team bidding war, but it sure attracted the desired attention and wasn’t a lie. And the NFL would not approve any contract submitted by a team that would put that team over the salary cap.”
Brown’s contract is rather large. But based on the way it was structured by Cincinnati, it wouldn’t have put the Steelers over the salary cap if he would have signed a similar deal with them, assuming, for the sake of argument, they made a serious offer. Brown’s cap number in 2023 is just over $10 million, with a base salary of $1.5 million and a prorated bonus of $7.775 million, not to mention a workout bonus of $375,000 and a per-game roster bonus of $748,000, according to OverTheCap.com.
The Bengals are paying Brown a lot of money up front, which makes a lot of sense. It helps circumnavigate the salary cap, too, which throws another wrench in Labriola’s line of thinking.
Based on the way the Steelers have done business this offseason, they’ve handed out a good amount of guarantees with signing bonuses while keeping the first-year cap charges low. That has allowed to them fit a number of players under the salary cap without having to do much internal work, aside from the Minkah Fitzpatrick restructure and the release of Myles Jack.
While the Fowler report about the Steelers being “in on” Brown can raise some questions, Pittsburgh has certainly been aggressive this offseason in building up the offensive line and plugging a number of holes. Really, there shouldn’t be any doubts about the Steelers being “in on” Brown Jr. The word on the Steelers’ interest came from Brown Jr.’s agent.
It’s very unlikely that the agent would put out inforomartion on teams being “in on” his client if it was just a phone call to see what the market was. Chances are the Steelers made a very aggressive, realistic offer to Brown Jr., but couldn’t come close to the $31 million in guarantees he ultimately got from the Bengals.
With Brown off the board, the Steelers next best opportunity to do that will be through the draft. Pittsburgh holds the 17th pick in next month’s draft.