With training camp underway, the New England Patriots are fully “on to 2021.”
The team currently has 91 players under contract, but only 53 of them will be able to survive roster cutdowns in August and September and ultimately make the active team. Over the course of spring and summer, just like we have in years past, we are taking a look at the players fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots bounce back from what was a disappointing 7-9 season last year.
Today, the series continues with offensive tackle Trent Brown.
Name: Trent Brown
Position: Offensive tackle
Jersey number: 77
Opening day age: 28
Size: 6-foot-8, 365 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2021 (2022 UFA)
What is his experience? After a college career that saw him spend time at both Georgia Military College and Florida, Brown entered the NFL career as a seventh-round draft pick by the San Francisco 49ers in 2015. Despite his draft status, he had a good career in San Francisco: over the next three seasons, Brown appeared in 31 games for the team with 28 starts. Despite serving as the 49ers’ starting right tackle between 2016 and 2017, the team decided to trade him to the Patriots during the 2018 draft.
In New England, Brown earned the starting left tackle job and helped the team win a Super Bowl — positioning himself for a major payday the following offseason: Brown signed a four-year, $66 million contract to become the highest paid offensive lineman in football. His tenure with the team was a disappointment, though. While he did show his talents as the Raiders’ right tackle, he also struggled to stay healthy: Brown played only 16 of a possible 32 games, prompting the team to trade him to New England during the 2021 offseason.
What did his 2020 season look like? After his first season with the Raiders ended on their injured reserve list because of a pectoral injury, 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 NFL’s newly created 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.
In total, Brown therefore appeared in just five games during the 2020 season. He did play 100 percent of offensive snaps in four of them, but still finished the year having played only 281 of a possible 1,083 (26%). When actually on the field, he did play some quality football and showed in flashes why the Raiders invested in him back in 2019; Brown gave up only five quarterback disruptions and no sacks in 2020. Nevertheless, the organization decided to put him on the trade block and eventually send him to New England.
What is his projected role? Even though Brown served as the Patriots’ starting left tackle during his first stint with the team, the expectation is that he will play on the right side of the offensive line in 2021. Based on the first few training camp practices, New England will keep Isaiah Wynn at left tackle and insert Brown into the right tackle spot that was freed up by the departure of Marcus Cannon earlier this offseason. The role is not a new one for him: the 28-year-old has aligned at right tackle in 42 of his 63 career starts.
What is his special teams value? While Brown’s main contributions to the Patriots will come on the offensive side of the ball, he also brings some experience in the kicking game to the table. During the 2018 season, for example, New England used him as its left tackle on field goal and extra point protection units — a role he is projected to keep heading into the 2021 season. Over the course of his career, Brown has played a total of 251 snaps on special teams.
Does he have positional versatility? The Patriots will prefer keeping Brown at right tackle throughout the 2021 season, but he does have some experience playing on the left side of the line as well. As noted above, he has served as the team’s starting left tackle during its 2018 championship run. On top of that, Brown also has played a handful of snaps at the in-line tight end position as a sixth blocker and was also used at guard during his time at Florida.
What is his salary cap situation? In order to get traded to the Patriots, Brown agreed to restructure his contract for the 2021 season. While he would originally have been signed through 2022, he will now enter free agency next offseason and effectively play on a one-year pact structured as follows: Brown carries a salary cap hit of $7.59 million — fifth highest on the team — that includes a fully guaranteed $6.5 million salary as well as $1.09 million in bonuses. Brown can also earn an additional $2.9 million through other bonuses or incentives.
What is his roster outlook? Brown is a lock to make the Patriots’ roster given that the team invested in him just earlier this offseason. The main questions heading into the season will be whether or not he will be able to return to his 2018 form and stay healthy throughout the season. If he can do all of that, New England could try to lock Brown up for the long term: he is a realistic candidate to receive a contract extension at one point during the season, especially if his play approaches 2018 levels.