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Eisenberg: When Business Intrudes on a Football Fairy Tale


I'm sure the Ravens didn't want to deal with drama in their offensive line as they set out to improve their team in 2021.

Upgrading the O-line is one of their goals, which means they're looking to add quality players, not subtract any.

But I'm also pretty sure they knew they'd have drama after what happened at left tackle following Ronnie Stanley's season-ending ankle injury last November. Orlando Brown Jr. moved over from right tackle and played so well he earned a Pro Bowl invitation.

Brown had played right tackle since joining the Ravens in 2018 because Stanley was already established on the left side, but the younger player always quietly envisioned himself at left tackle, the premier (and highest-paying) position on any O-line.

Now, since the season ended, Brown has made it clear on social media that he sees himself as a left tackle going forward, which puts the Ravens in a tricky spot because they just signed Stanley to a major contract extension.

The Ravens expect Stanley, an All-Pro, to reclaim his starting position in 2021. That would put Brown back at right tackle, which doesn't dovetail with his vision of where he belongs.

Brown wants a trade, according to the NFL Network. His departure is certainly a possibility. Few players are more valuable to a team than a quality left tackle, and one as young and proven as Brown seldom becomes available. He turns 25 in May and is a two-time Pro Bowl selection.

It means Ravens General Manager Eric DeCosta's cell phone will be buzzing with incoming calls and trade offers.

But that doesn't necessarily mean Brown has played his last game for the Ravens. Remember, he is under contract in Baltimore through 2021. His rookie deal expires after the upcoming season.

If none of the trade offers wow DeCosta, he doesn't have to make a deal.

Brown might not want to switch back to right tackle for a season before becoming an unrestricted free agent, but it's a possibility. (For those wondering about him holding out, a clause in the Collective Bargaining Agreement strongly discourages anyone from going that route. Basically, if Brown doesn't report to training camp on time, he would have to wait another year before becoming a free agent.)

Bottom line, the Ravens have some leverage in this situation. Brown's long-term NFL future may lie elsewhere, but as Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh is fond of saying, pro football is a year-to-year business. The Ravens definitely have a better shot at making a deep playoff run in 2021 with Stanley and Brown as their tackles, especially with Stanley's readiness unclear after a major injury.

There's also another possible outcome. The Ravens could try to sign Brown to a contract extension. Yes, the uncertainty about where he'd play is a major obstacle. But nice paydays tend to heal all.

I bring it up mostly out of sentiment, because Brown and the Ravens are such an ideal marriage. He grew up watching his late father play for the team, and now he is a startlingly exact knockoff of his dad – charismatic and popular off the field, but fierce on Sundays.

Brown is exactly the kind of young player the Ravens normally try to sign to a contract extension – young, ascending and totally into the franchise's vibe.

But with a salary cap in effect, it's hard to pay one high-end offensive tackle, let alone two. The chances are slim.

My hunch is there'll be several offers tantalizing enough for DeCosta to consider making a deal. The Ravens never mind adding draft capital. They'd probably rather not deal with Brown being quietly unhappy in 2021. Their return in a trade surely would exceed the single compensatory pick they'd likely get if they kept Brown for another year before he left via free agency.

But nothing is certain yet. For now, I'm sure the Ravens are doodling projections for their 2021 O-line with and without Brown.

It's a shame the industry's unforgiving realities have intruded on what had been a kind of football fairy tale with Brown and the Ravens. But as the saying goes, business is business. And that's true for both sides in this drama.

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