The Patriots have a couple of decisions to make in regard to free agents this offseason, but they are mainly to do with their role players and not with the starters like last year or the upcoming 2017 season.
One of their free agent signings was CB Tarell Brown who came on-board on July 23, just prior to training camp which started on July 30. Brown signed a 1-year deal worth $2 million dollars. Brown had spent seven seasons with the 49ers and Raiders after being drafted in the 5th round of the 2007 NFL Draft.
Brown was known as a smart, solid, fundamentally sound player. A good starter as a number 2 cornerback. Of course when the Patriots signed him, I immediately (and wrongly) pegged him as a depth player only with little chance of becoming a starter. He did arrive with a foot injury issue, which is why the Patriots had him in for visits twice before signing him in July.
But what drew Brown to New England wasn’t just that the team had a huge turnover at the corner position. But that the players are expected to be prepared every day and held to a higher standard than other teams do.
“That’s one of the reasons why I came here is just because these guys are held to a higher standard,” Brown said during training camp. “Day in and day out, you compete and that’s what we’re here to do and there’s nothing less than winning is accepted.”
What drew the Patriots and Bill Belichick to Brown was his studious, analytical side of playing the position. One of the things that the Patriots do and do a lot of on defense is what is commonly referred to as “mixing things up.” That just doesn’t mean switching from man-to-man to zone, which every team does. But depending upon the call by the defense, the situation and the opposition, a player’s responsibility will change. Sometimes players will rotate sides and a hallmark of the Belichick way is knowing what all the other parts are responsible doing.
Brown had a week to try to learn the defense and he reportedly spent a lot of time with Devin McCourty learning the calls, the responsibilities and the different coverages.
“It’s a craft,” Brown said of playing corner. “You gotta be able to study and be a student of the game. It’s not just about athletic ability anymore. You can get away with that in college, but once you get to the NFL, being able to study, being able to enjoy and understand your craft and when to use things, that’s what’s important.”
When camp opened, Brown’s foot was still an issue, but he caught on very quickly and was turning heads early in the sessions. On August 2, he was arguably the best player on the field, breaking up passes to Edelman in the end zone, a deep pass to Tyms where he was beaten initially but reacted well to the ball being in the air and knocked it away at the last moment, and another deep pass to Brandon Gibson.
Once the season started he was the #2 corner opposite Malcolm Butler and played well. When the team went to the nickel look with three corners, he’d move inside and Logan Ryan would come in and take his place outside. But his foot issues were never fully behind him and he was only able to play in three games with two starts before being placed on IR on October 17.
The 5’11, 190-pound Brown just turned 31 in January and would be very interested in coming back for a second stint with the team.
Why Brown Will Return: Brown, provided he’s healthy gives the Patriots a savvy, smart veteran who will be able to compete for the #2 corner position and be versatile enough to slide inside to play the slot.
His analytical approach and work ethic definitely resonates with Belichick and the Patriots. He’d be a very good sounding board for the younger players. Plus, he’s a proven veteran who can step in and play whenever and wherever he’s needed.
Another thing in his favor was, after he was placed on IR, he stayed in Foxboro and did his rehab there. He helped out in any way he could the corners on the roster in the film room and with their technique. Those are the kind of things that endear a player to the coaching staff. His salary won’t break the bank and he’d be very affordable.
Why Brown Won’t Return: The Patriots may decide that his foot injury will be one of those chronic type injuries that will haunt him for the rest of his career and therefore become a guy that they feel they can’t rely upon.
Or they could decide just to go younger and bring in another young guy. Butler and Ryan are still young and will be starting their third and fourth years respectively. Coleman is only going to be 23 when the OTAs begin, and Darryl Roberts who got the start in the first preseason game, is just 25 and entering his second season.
But the main issue with Brown will be his health, specifically his foot.
Bottom Line: Brown was a pleasant surprise for the Patriots last summer. He signed a week before camp and had a solid summer that translated into an opening night start against the Steelers. He played well when he was on the field. While his injury issue is the driving force here, he’d compete once again for starting reps.
Considering he won’t command a ton of money against the salary cap, I think there’s a 70 percent chance of the Patriots bringing him back for another year. They could basically set it up much like last year’s contract where there’d be a very small signing or roster bonus, or possibly just a straight salary deal. That way if they decide they don’t want to keep him at the end of training camp, there would be no issue with dead money against the cap.
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