With long-time starting left tackle Nate Solder having left in free agency, the New England Patriots aggressively bolstered the position during the 2018 offseason. Not only did they spend a first-round draft pick on Georgia’s Isaiah Wynn, they also traded a third-round selection to the San Francisco 49ers to acquire Trent Brown (as well as a fifth-rounder).
The trade turned out to be a success, as the Patriots added a starting-caliber tackle to a team that went on to win the Super Bowl: with Brown taking Solder’s old spot on the left end of the line, New England went 11-5 in the regular season and 3-0 in the playoffs.
Brown’s performance played an integral part in this. He looked impressive as a pass protector and also showed major strides in the running game. Look no further than two of the biggest run of the 2018 postseason: New England ran behind Brown on both Rex Burkhead’s overtime winner in Kansas City and Sony Michel’s touchdown in the Super Bowl.
However, Brown did not turn into a long-term solution at offensive tackle for the Patriots. With him playing on the final year of his contract, the door was wide open for him to cash in after the season. This is exactly what happened: he signed a four-year, $66 million deal with the then-Oakland Raiders to become the highest paid tackle in football.
Just two years later, however, Brown is back in New England. The Patriots acquired him via trade on Tuesday, sending a fifth-round pick in 2022 to the Raiders in return for their former starting tackle as well as a seventh-round selection.
What prompted Las Vegas to make that move? Let’s take a look at Brown’s two years with the organization to find out.
Salary cap hit: $15.25 million
Performance: 11 games (11 starts); 11 quarterback pressures given up (1 sacks, 1 hits, 9 hurries)
Despite having played left tackle during his successful 2018 season in New England, the Raiders opted to use Brown on the right side in order not to move former first-round draft choice Kolton Miller around. The move may have come as a bit of a surprise given his price tag compared to other right tackles, but it made sense given the Raiders’ apparent trust in Miller and Brown’s previous experience on the right side when he was still in San Francisco.
The move was a good one, as the big-bodied blocker did not skip a beat and was able to deliver another standout campaign. He was again very good in both pass protection and run blocking, and as a result was voted to the first Pro Bowl of his career.
Just one day after the Pro Bowl announcement, however, the Raiders ended his season by moving him to injured reserve because of a pectoral injury. It was not the only ailment that plagued Brown during his first season as a Raider.
Prior to his pec injury, Brown also missed a mid-October loss versus the Green Bay Packers due to a calf issue and left a November win over the Detroit Lions just one series in after hurting his knee. He appeared in the next four games but missed all of December due to the pectoral injury that eventually forced the club to move him to IR.
“It’s disappointing,” Raiders head coach Jon Gruden said afterwards. “Obviously, what he did put on tape was very impressive.”
Brown’s first season with the team showed his potential as one of the better offensive tackles in football, but also was a sign of things to come: that availability would be an issue.
Salary cap hit: $21.5 million
Performance: 5 games (5 starts); 7 quarterback pressures given up (1 hit, 6 hurries)
After his 2019 season ended on the sidelines, Brown was also suspiciously absent when the team opened its training camp the following summer. The Raiders, now calling Las Vegas their home, never announced why Brown was a no-show — Jon Gruden indicated more than once that Brown was not injured but rather “on a schedule” — but had to wait until late August to welcome him back into the fold.
Brown eventually went on to start the season opener against the Carolina Panthers, but left the field only three snaps in after hurting his calf. He sat out three contests due to the issue, including a game in New England, before returning in mid-October to play all 70 snaps in a win over the Kansas City Chiefs.
That game, however, remained his last for two months.
Brown was placed on the Coronavirus reserve list following the game in Kansas City and spent nine days there. He prepared to return for a Week 8 contest versus the Cleveland Browns but did not make it back, for bizarre reasons: a pre-game IV accidentally put air in his bloodstream and forced him to spend a night in a Cleveland hospital.
Later that week, the Raiders sent him back to the Reserve/Covid-19 list. Brown missed the next five games as well, and did not play again until early December. He went wire-to-wire in three straight contests at right tackle, but a knee injury cost him the regular season finale.
“It’s disappointing, no doubt. It’s very disappointing,” Gruden said at the time. “We brought him in here to be the Lebron James of right tackles. He’s had a lot of adversity. He’s had injuries, a number of injuries. It’s hurt our football team no doubt. But that’s part of this business.”
Two months later, the Raiders moved on from Brown.
So, what can be made of Browns’ two-year stint with the Raiders? He played some quality football whenever he was on the field, and showed in flashes why the organization invested in him back in 2019. Missing 16 of 32 games is a definitive issue, though, especially when it comes to a player being paid to be a cornerstone of the offense.
In the end, the Raiders no longer wanted to pay for promise alone in a year that will see the salary cap significantly decrease. Bill Williamson of Silver and Black Pride summed up the situation as follows:
The decision to jettison Brown was based on his lack of availability. Brown missed 16 of 32 games with the Raiders and he missed 11 games in 2020. When he did play, though, Brown was dominant. Still, there were rumblings of how much Brown wanted to be a Raider.
The fact that he accepted a re-worked deal with New England is either an indication that the Raiders didn’t want him back at a reduced rate or that Brown didn’t want to return to the Raiders at a reduced rate.
No matter the dynamics at play, the fact remains that the Patriots were able to get an immensely talented player at a discount: regardless of how the 2021 season shakes out, New England will not have sent anything more than the equivalent of the 150th overall draft pick to Las Vegas to acquire Brown; they will also pay him no more than $11 million even if he should hit all the incentives that may be included in his re-worked contract.
Whether or not 2021 will be a comeback season for the 27-year-old remains to be seen, but the stage is very much set.