Linebacker Preston Brown has manned a huge role for the Buffalo Bills the past four seasons. Since being drafted by the Bills in the third round of the 2014 draft, Brown has started in all but two games for the team over his tenure - and even in those two, he still played.
Brown recently said that he felt like head coach Sean McDermott wanted him back next season, and the linebacker himself admits that Buffalo is where he wants to be, but still, with his impending free agency on the way let’s examine whether or not the Bills should keep him or move on.
Besides his incredible availability, the Bills have also benefited immensely from Brown’s smarts on the field. Brown has served as the Bills field general - the defensive player calling the plays on the defense and the brain of the unit on the field - for the past two coaching regimes as well as again in 2017 for head coach Sean McDermott.
A starter on the team virtually since the day he arrived at One Bills drive, Brown’s production has been good but not great. Since his rookie season, Brown has been an absolute tackling machine - hitting triple-digit marks in each of his four seasons - but his problem, however, is that he doesn’t really provide much of anything else. Brown has just one career sack, and creating turnovers and swatting down passes isn’t part of his game, either. His athleticism is also a concern, but with that said, his tackling is really, really strong - Brown finished the 2017 campaign tied for the league lead in tackles.
2017 stats: 144 tackles, 0.0 sacks, and 0 forced fumbles
Career stats: 512 tackles, 1.0 sack, and 4 forced fumbles
Spotrac Market Value: four years, $33,800,740/$8,450,185 average annually
Pro Football Focus LB Ranking: No. 42
Other Pending LB Free Agents
Avery Williamson, 25, Tennessee Titans UFA
Williamson is a fellow inside linebacker. His strong all-around production combined with his youth will probably help Willamson land a huge payday on the open market. He’s projected by Spotrac to get the biggest contract of all the players mentioned here.
2017 stats: 92 tackles, 3.0 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles
Career stats: 377 tackles, 11.5 sacks, and 3 forced fumbles
Spotrac Market Value: four years, $36,423,496/$9,105,874 average annually
Pro Football Focus LB Ranking: No. 10
Anthony Hitchens,25, Dallas Cowboys UFA
Hitchens is on the smaller side (6’0”, 235 lbs.) and his stats aren’t better than Brown’s overall, but he does grade out better. The folks over at PFF have declared Hitchens the 20th-best linebacker in the league. He might also be appealing to the Bills because he projects to command less money than Brown.
2017 stats: 84 tackles, 0.0 sacks, and 0 forced fumbles
Career stats: 304 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles
Spotrac Market Value: four years, $25,641,504/$6,410,376 average annually
Pro Football Focus LB Ranking: No. 20
Tahir Whitehead, 27, Detroit Lions UFA
Whitehead, a couple of years older than Brown, is also largely just a high-volume tackler, but he does get his hands on passes and will even come away with an interception or two.
2017 stats: 110 tackles, 1.0 sack, and 0 forced fumbles
Career stats: 398 tackles, 3.0 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles
Spotrac Market Value: four years, $34,139,704/$8,534,926 average annually
Pro Football Focus LB Ranking: No. 25
Nigel Bradham, 28, Philadelphia Eagles UFA
Bills fans are very familiar with Bradham, who the team drafted in 2012 and had spend the first four years of his career with. He’s another guy that will give you a little bit of everything at the linebacker position and his project salary is extremely attractive.
2017 stats: 88 tackles, 1.0 sack, and 1 forced fumble
Career stats: 343 tackles, 5.5 sacks, and 4 forced fumbles
Spotrac Market Value: two years, $11,858,602/$5,929,301 average annually
Pro Football Focus LB Ranking: No. 21
Demario Davis, 29, New York Jets UFA
Like Hitchens, Davis is also on the small side (6’2”, 239 lbs.) but he’s a sack machine. He’s had multiple sacks the past four seasons, including five in 2017. Like Brown and Williamson, Davis is a natural inside backer.
2017 stats: 135 tackles, 5.0 sacks, and 0 forced fumble
Career stats: 583 tackles, 13.5 sacks, and 1 forced fumble
Spotrac Market Value: three years, $15,376,212/$5,125,404 average annually
Pro Football Focus LB Ranking: No. 8
Free agency looks like it will provide the Bills with better options than what they have in Brown. Although it should be pointed out that none of the other players named are leaps and bounds better than Brown, the difference between them and him is only marginal. But because he’s expected to command such a large amount of money this offseason, if I were the one with deciding whether or not to retain Brown, I would opt to test my luck in free agency.