The Buffalo Bills have had very few decisions to make regarding the middle linebacker position since drafting Preston Brown. Selected in the third round, 73rd overall, of the 2014 NFL Draft, the Louisville product has played in at least 90% of the Bills’ defensive snaps in each year of his career.
In the final year of his rookie contract, Brown provided the Bills with a great salary cap value overall. He may not have been the best linebacker in the league, but he made quite an impact given the financial commitment the Bills made.
2017 Cap Hit (per Spotrac): 1,959,000 (1.26% of 2017 Cap)
2017 Cap Hit Rank by Position: 30th among inside linebackers
2017 Vital Stats: 16 games played, 16 starts, 1,098 defensive snaps (99.1% of team total), 84 solo tackles, 60 combined tackles, 144 total tackles (NFL leader), 3 pass breakups
Brown is not a great coverage linebacker, nor is he an elite pass-rusher. He is not the strongest, fastest, or biggest player on the field, either. What he is, however, is a strong flow-and-chase linebacker who sticks to gap assignments. A sure tackler, Brown is always around the ball, and he does a great job reading and quarterbacking the defense. For proof of that, check out Skarekrow’s excellent analysis of Brown’s play.
While Brown has the counting-stats angle in his favor, the analytics models don’t favor him. Pro Football Focus graded Brown at a 71.6, or average grade. This made him the #42 linebacker in the NFL in 2017. Brown’s struggles in coverage are obvious, and that certainly brings his overall ranking down.
According to Brown himself, the Bills and his agent have spoken about returning to the team in 2018. The team will be hard-pressed to find a replacement who provides the kind of bang for their buck that Brown has, even with his shortcomings. Also, if the team decides to re-sign Brown, it is quite likely that he won’t perform to the value of the contract they give him, especially if it’s anything like the deal we projected that he will receive on the open market.
So, for 2017, Brown provided solid tackling and excellent play diagnosis at a bargain price. Unless he makes strides in coverage, which at this point in his career is unlikely, it’s probable that he won’t provide the same kind of surplus cap value in 2018.
Best 2017 Bills salary cap values
10. QB Tyrod Taylor (article)
9. LB Preston Brown (article)
8. LT Dion Dawkins (article)
7. LB Matt Milano (article)
6. CB E.J. Gaines (article)
5. RB LeSean McCoy (article)
4. OG Richie Incognito (article)
3. FS Micah Hyde (article)
2. SS Jordan Poyer (article)
1. CB Tre’Davious White (article)