Coming off a 2021 season that saw them return to the playoffs but eventually come up short on wild card weekend, the New England Patriots have a long list of to-dos this offseason. One of its items is bringing back players who are scheduled to enter free agency.
There are quite a few of them: all in all, 18 players that were with New England last year are in need of a new contract. Among them is offensive tackle Trent Brown, who is an unrestricted free agent and will therefore hit the open market on March 16.
Name: Trent Brown
Position: Offensive tackle
Jersey number: 77
Opening day age: 29
Size: 6-foot-8, 365 pounds
Contract status: Unrestricted free agent
What is his experience? After a college career that saw him spend time at both Georgia Military College and at the University of Florida, Brown entered the NFL career as a seventh-round draft pick by the San Francisco 49ers in 2015. Despite his low-level draft status, he had a good career in San Francisco: over the next three seasons, Brown appeared in a combined 31 games for the team with 28 starts.
Despite serving as the 49ers’ starting right tackle between 2016 and 2017, however, 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 with the Oakland Raiders 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. Once back in a Patriots uniform, Brown reestablished himself as one of the better right tackles in the NFL.
What did his 2021 season look like? Brown’s time in Las Vegas came to an abrupt end last March. With two years still remaining on his contract, the team decided to ship him and a 2022 seventh-round draft pick to the Patriots in return for a fifth-round selection that same year. Along the way, he also restructured his contract: Brown had two years and $29 million left on the deal he originally signed with the Raiders in 2019; it was turned into a one-year, $9 million pact upon his return to New England.
Once back with his old team, Brown quickly assumed a starting position again. The Patriots used him as their top option at right tackle throughout the summer, and had him start their season opener versus the Miami Dolphins in that spot as well. However, his first game back was a short one: the veteran lineman hurt his calf just seven snaps in and was eventually forced to miss considerable time because of the issue.
After sitting out three games on the inactives list and five more on injured reserve, the big-bodied blocker made his return in Week 10 against the Cleveland Browns. While he only played two thirds of offensive snaps that day, his outlook was clear: once fully healthy again he would resume his starting spot on the right end of the Patriots’ O-line. The following week versus the Atlanta Falcons that is exactly what happened.
Brown never looked back and ended the season as the undisputed top option at right tackle. As such, he appeared in nine regular season games as well as New England’s playoff loss in Buffalo; he was on the field for a combined 553 out of 1,169 offensive snaps (47.3%) but rarely left the field when healthy. His performance — he surrendered just one sack all year and also looked good as a run blocker — justified this usage in his first and possibly only year back as a Patriot.
Free agency preview
What is his contract history? Brown signed a standard four-year contract upon entering the NFL in 2015, and played out the deal over his tenures in San Francisco and New England. His first deal to free agency then became a lucrative one: he signed the aforementioned four-year, $66 million contract — a deal that was later restructured upon Brown getting traded to the Patriots. Nonetheless, Over the Cap estimates that he has earned around $48.3 million thus far in his career.
Which teams might be in the running? Brown could become a popular player if allowed to enter free agency. Despite his disappointing stint with the Raiders and an extensive injury history, he has proven himself a capable player at the right tackle position. In turn, tackle-needy teams such as the Indianapolis Colts, New Orleans Saints, Pittsburgh Steelers, Seattle Seahawks, Jacksonville Jaguars and Houston Texans might all try to lure him away.
Why should he be expected back? Shortly after returning to New England last offseason, Brown said that he “never had more fun playing” than with the Patriots. A few months later, he added that he would hope to stay with the team “a while this time.” Whether or not those words will turn into a new contract remains to be seen, but the 28-year-old genuinely seems to like it in New England — especially coming off a disappointing two-year stint with the Raiders.
Why should he be expected to leave? Brown’s experience and ability should make him a popular player in free agency, which could lead to some problems for the Patriots. They are tight against the cap at the moment and possibly not in a position to match every offer coming their right tackle’s way. Given the financial circumstances of potentially signing him to a new deal, the team might also feel more comfortable rolling with third-year man Michael Onwenu at right tackle.
What is his projected free agency outcome? As noted above, Brown redid his contract when he was traded to the Patriots and took a pay cut to make the trade happen. That move alone might not be a reflection of his intentions, but it could provide the team and its incumbent starting right tackle with a contractual blueprint: Brown returning on a medium-length deal — i.e. two or three years — at a total value of around $27 million would make sense for both parties.
Will the Patriots re-sign Trent Brown?
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