The latest volley in the Kansas City Chiefs-Cincinnati Bengals rivalry has been served.
Prior to the teams’ second meeting in the playoffs last year, Mike Hilton dubbed Arrowhead Stadium “Burrowhead,” the Cincinnati mayor said Patrick Mahomes needed to take a paternity test to determine if Joe Burrow was his father and the Bengals even claimed Chris Lammons, who the Chiefs were trying to sneak on to their practice squad.
Then last week former Chiefs left tackle Orlando Brown signed with the Bengals, further amplifying the rivalry.
“It’s really intense,” Brown said, “on both sides.”
Despite not being in the same division, the Bengals and Chiefs have played each other four times, including two AFC Championship Games decided by three points, the last two years.
“Those games have just become so important,” Brown said. “It’s naturally created this competitive rivalry.”
Mahomes’ former blind-side protector, Brown had his first sit-down with his new quarterback, Burrow, over cheeseburgers on Thursday.
The Bengals were able to satiate Brown’s contract demands by frontloading his new deal because Burrow is still on his cost-effective, rookie deal.
For example, Burrow counts only $11.5 million against the cap this year, and Mahomes’ contract will represent a $40 million cap hit this year. (And the Chiefs just greatly reduced that amount by converting $12 million of a $34.4 million 2023 roster bonus into a signing bonus.)
So, as part of Brown’s four-year contract with the Bengals, Cincinnati structured it so he receives 67.87% of the $64 million fully guaranteed with $42.3 million through year two and $49.9 million through year three.
Though Brown should bolster a Bengals offensive line that struggled last year — particularly against the Chiefs, who hit Burrow 12 times and sacked him five times during the AFC Championship Game — the overall free-agency ledger may be pointed the Chiefs’ way.
They replaced Brown, who is a better run blocker than pass blocker, with Jawaan Taylor, who has a reputation as a better pass blocker, which better fits the Kansas City offense.
Plus, the Bengals lost their starting safeties. Vonn Bell signed a three-year, $22.5 million deal with the Carolina Panthers, and Jesse Bates signed a four-year, $64 million deal with the Atlanta Falcons.
Both versatile players had key roles in mixing up coverages against the Chiefs.
In last year’s AFC Championship Game upset, they emphasized taking away the deep pass and using a “robber safety,” who moved at the snap in an attempt to confuse Mahomes.
“They dropped eight and played man coverage and had a thief player rolling around in there,” Chiefs head coach Andy Reid said. “And they executed well.”
The Bengals also lost Samaje Perine, who caught a pass and ran 41 yards for a second-quarter touchdown in that Bengals victory, to the Denver Broncos.
During the following season, the Bengals running back rushed 21 times for 106 yards in their Week 13 win against the Chiefs.
And in the AFC Championship Game in late January, Perine received more snaps (65 percent) than Joe Mixon’s 35 percent.
Brown was on the winning side for that game, which paved the way for the Chiefs to win Super Bowl LVII, giving Brown his first Super Bowl ring.
During his first press conference with his new team, Brown was gracious about the team with whom he won a championship and spent the last two years.
“I’ve got a ton respect for that organization,” Brown said. “Man, I got nothing negative to say.”
Brown’s former and current teams — two of the AFC heavyweights — are slated to meet again in the regular season of 2023.
And it would surprise no one if they faced each other again in the playoffs.