When the Cincinnati Bengals struck a four-year deal with four-time Pro Bowl offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr., they inked one of the biggest deals in team history. Rarely, if ever, has the team made an outside free agent signing of this magnitude, though big gets from other teams have become more and more frequent the past four offseasons.
Brown Jr.’s NFL career arc has had twists and turns, most recently culminating in that fourth Pro Bowl berth and a Super Bowl ring for the 2022 season. However, Brown Jr. spent the first couple of years grinding to become one of the league’s best left tackles.
It started with a pre-draft process that saw him go from a surefire first-round pick to taking a tumble to the middle of the third round (No. 83) of the 2018 NFL Draft (Cincinnati selected Sam Hubbard and Malik Jefferson a Nos. 77 and 78 overall). Then, he went on a quest to become a bona fide left tackle in the league, starting on the right side with the Baltimore Ravens after earning the starting spot six games into his rookie season.
When we had the immense pleasure of speaking with Brown Jr. on our Bengals podcast this week, he talked about the transition to left tackle and the reasons behind it. Most players do it to chase money or notoriety, but there’s much more behind this big guy’s quest to star left tackle.
“You know, my dad came in to this league as a rookie minicamp invitee,” said Brown Jr. of his late father, Orlando Sr.
“He had to scratch and claw his way to a practice squad and then scratch and claw his way to a right tackle for 13 years. And, something he always preached to me, which, he didn’t even want to allow me to play football, he was really big on: ‘Hey, you don’t have to play this just because I did. If you want to play football, it’s because you want to play football.’ That was something he always harped on was if I were to play it, ‘be better than I am, but also in other areas of life.’
In another part of the interview, Orlando Jr. relayed the heartbreaking story of his father’s untimely and sudden passing from diabetic ketoacidosis. It’s an ailment caused by diabetes from high blood sugar and a lack of insulin, but adding to the sadness was Orlando Sr.’s lack of knowledge in even having the disease.
Furthering Orlando Jr.’s point about his father grinding for a quality NFL career was the unfortunate injury to his right eye late in the 1999 season. It cost him three prime years of his career to rehabilitate and work to have as effective of eyesight as possible.
“I was really drawn to the sport early on, and he didn’t allow me to play until I was in sixth or seventh grade,” Orlando Jr. continued. “But man, something he always he would always tell me because he knew I was fascinated with it was ‘watch the left tackle’.”
Orlando Sr. played with one of the best ever in Baltimore, so that was one of the prime examples for the father to show his son. And, in that same division came the best to ever do it over in Cincinnati, as the Bengals’ No. 78 was another shining beacon of a left tackle example for Jr.
“And, so I grew up watching Jonathan Ogden, Anthony Munoz film. Tony Boselli film, Orlando Pace, Flozell Adams—all of these names I can name off, but I grew up watching those in my household and I would watch them with my dad,” Orlando Jr. recalled. “One of the things he said when I started playing—you know, I’m on the phone with him, 13 years old, telling him I want to play ball, was: ‘Well, hey, if this is something you want to do, you gotta play a minimum of 10 years in the NFL and have a Hall of Fame career’.
Orlando Jr. smiled when recounting his response to the question, which was a resounding “yes, of course”, if it meant his dad letting him finally play football. And, while those are lofty expectations for the young teenager, the point his father was making to his son was to have him dedicate himself to the craft, as Sr. knew Jr. would undoubtedly be a star in the sport.
“It was those kinds of conversations, my upbringing and the things that he said that really drew me to the position,” Orlando Jr. said with a smile. “Man, I’ve played it my whole entire life—he wouldn’t allow me to play anything else—obviously at Oklahoma, I was strictly a left tackle there. Coming into Baltimore, they drafted me as the right tackle there—it was a learning curve for me there, super difficult, but man I made it work out, made a Pro Bowl there...”
Three of Brown Jr.’s four Pro Bowl berths have come in seasons wherein he played left tackle. To say he’s taken the path, the jobs and the positions seriously is an understatement.
“It’s just really the passion that was drawn to me early on from my father, studying some of the greats,” Orlando Jr. concluded. “I know that athletically, I’ve got my flaws and as a player, I’ve got my flaws. But, personally on every single level, I don’t think it’s been able to affect my success.”
It sure hasn’t.
Orlando Jr. has been passionate about diabetes research and aiding progress to battle the disease. He donated $50,000 to Kansas City’s Mercy Hospital for diabetes research and did a lot of work with that healthcare organization.
He is in the process of finding another new charitable endeavor and we are hoping to raise funds for him while he identifies said cause. We are pooling money through Cincy Jungle and our Orange and Black Insider podcast channels and will donate them to the cause he identifies in the near future. You can donate through our YouTube channel’s “Super Chat” function, or via Venmo @OrangeAndBlackInsider.
Our HUGE thanks to Mr. Michael Portner of Delta Sports Group and to Mr. Brown Jr. for the opportunity to speak with the new star tackle!
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