Bills hope to re-sign Brown, but know that may be a challenge

Preston Brown is set to be a free agent on March 14

Sal Capaccio
February 28, 2018 - 4:58 pm

Photo: Timothy T. Ludwig - USA TODAY Sports

Indianapolis, IN (WGR 550) - Buffalo Bills linebacker Preston Brown is 25-years old. He led the NFL in tackles last season with 144. He’s never missed a game through his four-year pro career, playing all 64 of them since he was drafted in the second round out of Louisville in 2014. He’s started 58 straight games, fourth most amongst any active linebacker. He also played almost every single defensive snap for the Bills last season. He’s the poster child for being “available” as so many head coaches and general managers covet.

All that added up means he’s set to hit free agency at the most optimal time for any player.

What kind of market will Brown command and how do the Bills value him? Both head coach Sean McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane talked about the linebacker’s situation here at the NFL Combine on Wednesday.

“It’s hard because Preston had a good year for us and this is his chance to hit free agency and, like houses, you have to put a market value on them,” Beane told me during a one-on-one interview. “I’ve been in these situations where you thought you could bring your guy back, or thought you could get a guy, and all it takes is one team who really felt like that was a huge need for them and they overspend and go way up. So we’ll value that and we’ll hope to get Preston Brown back, but until the ink’s on the paper you don’t know if that’s going to happen or not.”

If the Bills want Brown back it may be challenging finding a middle ground for his price. They certainly won’t break the bank for him. The good news for the team, though, is his position doesn’t typically command huge money, outside of some of the top-paid players like Luke Kuechly, Bobby Wagner, and Alec Ogletree, who all make an average of $10 million or more.

If Brown wants to paid like one of them, I can’t see the Bills doing that. 

But only eleven inside linebackers average $4 million or more. That could be the type of range the Bills would be willing to go, with even less of a cap hit by spreading out the money with up-front bonuses. Brown’s cap hit was half that at just under $2 million last year. And for the way he played, that was a tremendous value for the team.

“Preston is a good player and it was good for me to get with Preston this past season and just have him control our defense,” McDermott said when he met with the media from the podium. “[He] really did some nice things. The production is well documented and like many of our situations these things will work themselves out. Preston was a big part of our defense in the middle for us controlling what we did upfront.”

Brown should want to get as much as he can on the open market. He’s earned that right. Many counted him out headed into last season and pegged Reggie Ragland as the starter at middle linebacker. But Brown began training camp as the number one guy, showed he could move better than a lot of people realized (helped by dropping 10-15 pounds and sticking to a strict diet) and beat him out, never losing hold of the spot. He has underrated athleticism and speed, but he still may be lacking enough for what McDermott wants overall in his 4-3 middle linebacker. 

If the two sides can’t work something out, it will create yet another hole in the defensive front seven that already needs work. Rookie Matt Milano came on very nicely last season and ultimately took over the starting weakside linebacker spot from Ramon Humber. Although he could slide over to the middle, McDermott said that most likely wouldn’t happen.

“Matt has position flexibility,” he said. “He's focused mostly outside but we've got some other guys there. Tanner Vallejo being one of them that we're confident in, as well. Preston is a good player, but we also have some some other players there, as well.”

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