It has been a running joke for a few years that the Buffalo Bills have become a farm system team for the New England Patriots. Players enter the league with the Bills, have mild success, and then head to New England in free agency and both play well and play in meaningful playoff games and Super Bowls (see: Chris Hogan, Stephon Gilmore, etc.) Bills linebacker Preston Brown has interest in being the next player to make such a move. In a recent interview, Brown discussed what it’s like to see players leave for New England, and how he believes he could make the Patriots defense better. While he insisted that Buffalo is still his number one spot in free agency, his interest in New England is still clear.
Brown is heading into his fifth year after being drafted out of Louisville in the 3rd round of the 2014 NFL Draft. He has been an impact player his entire career, having played in every single game over the past four seasons, and starting all but two of them. He’s tallied over a hundred tackles in each season, and in 2017 he led the league with 144 tackles (solo and assisted). Brown is a strong middle linebacker with great recognition skills. He reads plays quickly and can quickly break towards a ball carrier or a receiver. For Patriots fans to have a comparison, he has a similar but much more disciplined explosive downfield ability to Elandon Roberts. His weaknesses would be in coverage and in rushing the passer. While Brown is certainly not incapable of coverage, his size makes it more difficult for him to cover quick running backs and athletic tight ends. Brown has also only totaled one career sack. This may not necessarily be his fault or an issue with his play; the Bills scheme could have kept him away from blitzing.
Brown would be an immediate upgrade at a position of need for New England. The Patriots leading tackler was safety Devin McCourty, which is indicative of how much extra work the Patriots safeties were asked to undertake this past season due to the lack of talent at linebacker. Adding Brown would eliminate the need to rely on the safeties as much. It would also allow Dont’a Hightower’s role to change from a set middle linebacker to more of an edge rusher, which is what New England seemed posed to do last season before Hightower went down with an injury.
While the Patriots role players at the linebacker position performed admirably last season, New England is in serious need of a boost in talent. Their linebackers’ inability to cover really anyone was an issue in the Super Bowl as the Patriots had to once again adjust their strategy to put safeties like Patrick Chung in linebacker roles. Adding a talent like Brown would be a major boost, freeing up the secondary to focus on straight coverage and turnovers. To sign Brown the Patriots would likely be spending somewhere around $7.5-9 million per season. While this is not a cheap replacement, it would guarantee them talent that allows them time to draft and develop a new young linebacker corps.
While the Bills will likely do everything they can to retain Brown, there is no doubt that the Patriots will express their interest.
Until next time – B$