By all accounts, Preston Brown had a successful 2017 season: The linebacker led the NFL in tackles with a combined 144, helped the Buffalo Bills reach their first playoff berth of the 21st century, and appeared in all 17 of his team's games while missing only a handful of snaps all year long. Brown picked a perfect time as he was playing on the final year of his rookie contract and is now about to enter the open market.
One of the teams that will likely take a close look at the 25-year old is the New England Patriots, who played against Brown eight times over the course of his career. The former third round draft pick would certainly be an intriguing addition to a Patriots linebacker corps that has been inconsistent last year – in part because of injuries to top rotational options Dont'a Hightower and Shea McClellin, in part because of a lack of quality depth.
Brown would help solve both problems. The 6'1, 250 lbs defender is a proven playmaker that averaged 126 combined tackles through his first four seasons in the NFL; one that brings plenty of experience and production to the table as a run stopper, pass rusher and in coverage. Furthermore, he has not missed a single game since the Bills drafted him out of Louisville back in 2014: He appeared in all 65 of Buffalo's games since then.
In short: Brown would likely be a solid addition to New England's defense – something he knows as well. “I think I can definitely help the young guys they have there now,” Brown told the Boston Herald's Jeff Howe during a recent interview. “They’ve got some good young talent at linebacker. They run pretty well. I know [David] Harris retired. A lot of young guys were playing well, [Kyle] Van Noy and [Elandon] Roberts played well.”
“They definitely have some things they can work on like we all do, but I think I can help that defense get better,” continued the four-year veteran. Brown complimenting the Patriots organization did not stop at the linebacker group, the unrestricted free agent also talked positively about the team's ability to utilize talent: “I just think the whole organization in New England does a great job of knowing what those players’ skills are and then utilizing them in that way.“
“They know Chris Hogan can run vertical, so they throw him vertical routes,” Brown said when talking about ex-Bills that joined New England over the years. “They know Stephon [Gilmore] can play zero, man-to-man coverage all day, and that’s what he does. They used his skills. Stephon probably wouldn’t have been as good in Buffalo this year because we did a lot of zone stuff. Him playing man and having fun, those guys used his talents. ‘Touchdown Mike [Gillislee]’ earlier in the year was scoring touchdowns. Those guys definitely played well when they were out there.”
Brown would become the fourth Bills player to join the team's division rival via free agency over the last two years: The Patriots signed cornerback Stephon Gilmore as an unrestricted free agent last offseason and also added wide receiver Chris Hogan and running back Mike Gillislee as restricted free agents in 2016 and 2017, respectively. Gilmore and Hogan in particular have flourished in New England.
Brown knows that he could be the next in line to do just that. “Anytime you can play for one of the best franchises in NFL history, it’s obviously going to be an option,” the unrestricted free agent linebacker told Howe. “They definitely have great players. I met with the coaching staff coming out of college. I have some familiarity with those guys, and they definitely do a great job each and every year of continuing to win 13, 14, 16 games.”
New England is heading towards free agency with around $16.2 million in salary cap space, per patscap.com's Miguel Benzan. The team certainly will generate more monetary flexibility over the next two weeks considering that multiple core players are headed towards the open market as well. It would therefore not be a surprise to see the Patriots pursue linebackers – and Brown definitely fits the mold for what the team is looking for.
“The Patriots, they definitely seem to get the best out of the Buffalo Bills,” Brown said in his talk with Howe. Maybe the 2018 offseason will be a continuation of that.