During Orlando Brown Jr.'s freshman year at DeMatha High School, his father, Orlando Brown, heard the coaches were lining his son up at left guard and right tackle. Neither of those positions was left tackle, and therefore, neither was acceptable.
"If he's not playing left tackle, put him on defense," is how Brown Jr. recalls his father's talk with the head coach. "There's no need for y'all to do him like that."
And so, Orlando Brown Jr., son of the 6-foot-7, 360-pound former NFL right tackle nicknamed "Zeus," began his high school career at defensive tackle.
That's how important it was to the elder Brown for his son to play the premier position on the offensive line -- the one reserved for the most-respected, highest-paid player in the group, and the position he never got to play.
"One of the things he always stressed to me as a kid growing up was, 'Be better than me. Put yourself in a better position. I was an undrafted free agent. Get drafted in the first round, shoot for the stars,' " recalled Brown Jr., the former Oklahoma left tackle whom the Ravens drafted in the third round in 2018, in a phone conversation this week. "He always told me, 'Don't settle for playing right tackle. Make sure that when it comes time and you get to every level, you're playing left.' "
This offseason, Brown Jr. followed his late father's advice.
Realizing an extended stay in Baltimore would mean being stuck at right tackle, Brown and his agents approached the Ravens last month to ask permission to seek a trade -- a request general manager Eric DeCosta granted.
In his first public comments since making the request, Brown said his agents, Justin Schulman and Joe Panos, are handling discussions with teams. Neither Brown nor his representatives wanted to identify the suitors, though sources indicate the camp has had ongoing conversations with six teams. Brown, who is slated to earn $3.384 million in the final year of his current contract, said a new contract with his next team would be part of the trade process.
All parties involved seem confident a deal will get done to send Brown elsewhere for his fourth NFL season.
"It's a situation where Baltimore knows my plan isn't to play right tackle," Brown said. "I feel more comfortable on the left side. That's where I had played my whole life (before joining the Ravens). I'm a better left tackle than right tackle."
During his pre-free agency press conference this week, DeCosta said there are "a lot of different scenarios" at play for Brown, who said he hasn't yet decided what he would do if the Ravens couldn't find a trade partner.
"We'll do what's best for Orlando and we'll do what's best for the Ravens," DeCosta said.
For Brown, deciphering whether it was best for him to play left tackle or play for the Ravens was a tough process.
On the one hand, he'd begun his NFL career with the organization he grew up watching, the one that signed his father as an undrafted free agent in 1993 while it was still known as the Cleveland Browns and kept Brown Sr. through the move to Baltimore, where he ended up spending six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. Brown Sr. passed away suddenly in 2011 as the result of a diabetic complication.
On the other hand, Ronnie Stanley had locked down the left side before Brown arrived in Baltimore. But in Week 4 of the 2020 season, Stanley was ruled inactive with a shoulder injury, opening the door for Brown's return to left tackle for the first time since the Rose Bowl in January 2018.
"I played in a lot of big games in Baltimore, but that game was so special to me," Brown said. "I remember being a 13-year-old kid setting out a goal and a dream growing up here in Baltimore to be the starting left tackle for the Ravens and someday being able to do what Jonathan Ogden did.
"For me to have that opportunity against the Washington Football Team at left tackle, that was one of the most special moments of my NFL career for me personally."
Stanley reclaimed his position the following week, sliding Brown back to the right side. The No. 6 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, Stanley had become arguably the best in the league at his position. Stanley's grip on the spot became even firmer when he signed a five-year, $98.75 million contract in October. Coincidentally, Stanley suffered a season-ending broken ankle just days later.
Brown said it was a bit of an adjustment to switch back to the left side in the middle of a season. The footwork is different, the movements are different and his brain had to remind his body to do things the opposite way on that side of the line. Plus, the Ravens' run-heavy scheme often calls for runs to the right side, meaning the responsibilities tend to be different for the left tackle on the back side of the play.
All that said, Brown found a comfort level quickly. And though some evaluators wondered if he could play left tackle in the NFL after his shaky pre-draft workouts (that included a 5.85-second 40-yard dash), Brown felt at home. He noted he'll be even more comfortable if he gets the chance to practice on the left side throughout training camp this year.
Filling in for the injured Stanley affirmed Brown's belief, and that of his father: the left side is where he belongs.
"It was, 'Left tackle, left tackle, that's all you're ever playing.' And that's all we ever worked on," Brown said of his father's advice and tutelage. "I'm better at left tackle; it's what I dreamed about being my whole life. We all have dreams, and we all get put in positions where we have an opportunity to upgrade. That's it for me.
"It's a lot more emotional or spiritual for me, I guess you could say, playing left tackle."
Brown Sr. played at a time when there was definitely a disparity between the respect and pay given to left tackles vs. right. In recent years, things have pretty much evened out.
A few years ago, the Raiders made Trent Brown the highest-paid tackle in the league, yet decided to play him on the right side. Eagles right tackle Lane Johnson is currently fourth in the NFL in average pay per season ($18 million per year) among left and right tackles. Johnson, the Saints' Ryan Ramczyk and the Browns' Jack Conklin are all well-respected and well-paid -- or at least, Ramczyk will be soon.
Despite the evening of the playing field when it comes to respect and money, Brown still shares his father's view on which side is the best for him. So much so that he decided playing left tackle in another city edged out playing the right side in his hometown.
"It definitely wasn't easy, just because of my ties to the city and organization," Brown said. "This place is forever special, this place is forever home. It was a decision that took time and the understanding of what's best for me."
Brown said he and Stanley are good friends, and that Stanley knows this situation has nothing to do with him. As Brown noted, it's not like he's demanding the Ravens move Stanley out and slide him in at left tackle.
It's just mostly about honoring the request of a father who would absolutely support his son's decision if he were alive today.
"The person that's working the cashier at McDonald's, if they want to be a manager there, and they're presented that opportunity, I would never judge that person for taking a higher job," Brown said. "We all have aspirations for what we do for our job and/or profession.
"It's been my goal to be a starting left tackle in this league. To be presented with the opportunity realistically, it's hard for me to turn something like that down."