Earlier this off-season, the New England Patriots made a surprising deal with the San Francisco 49ers to acquire offensive tackle Trent Brown. The move came as a surprise to many, as Brown’s arrival would complicate the status of players all along the offensive line. After the departure of Nate Solder, the offensive line requires some major reshuffling, and Brown’s presence ought to help ease some of that unrest.
New England Patriots X-Factors: Trent Brown
Career With San Francisco
Brown has spent the last three years in San Francisco after being drafted in the seventh round of the 2015 NFL Draft. During his rookie year, he saw action in only five games for the Niners but made two consecutive starts to finish out the season.
Those two starts showed the Niners brass exactly what they wanted to see, and Brown became the starting right tackle for the entirety of the 2016 season. Had he remained healthy for all of 2017, Brown would have started at right tackle for all 16 games, but a shoulder injury landed him on the injured reserve list after just ten games.
Brown’s Size and Skill
Brown stands at 6’8″ and weighs in at just over 350 pounds. That puts Brown as not only one of the biggest NFL players on a roster this season, but he ranks pretty high on the list of largest offensive lineman. For reference, the tallest active offensive linemen stand at 6’9″.
He has established himself as one of the better pass-blocking offensive linemen in the league. His size allows him to win battles up front, but when his target gets away from him, he is able to use his prototypical wingspan to batter incoming pass rushers and keep them off his signal-caller long enough for them to get their shots off. Even Von Miller, one of the best pass rushers in the league, praised Brown’s abilities when asked which tackles have given him the most trouble.
A Replacement for Solder?
The Patriots traded the 95th overall pick to the Niners in exchange for Brown and the 143rd overall pick during the 2018 NFL Draft. The Patriots had already taken Isaiah Wynn when they made the trade for Brown. This means that the Patriots likely already had plans for Wynn on the offensive line, and starting at left tackle was not among them.
Obviously, anything can happen during training camp, but the Patriots unofficial depth chart does have Brown listed as the starting left tackle right now. It seems unlikely for Wynn to win the starting job at left tackle for week one against the Houston Texans. Brown has more experience and has better size and length than Wynn for the position, making him a clear top option to stand in for Solder this season.
Buy-In and Injury
One of the concerns that the Niners had about Trent Brown was whether or not he would ever fully buy into their program. He struggled with conditioning in San Francisco. In 2016, the offensive tackle arrived out of shape to spring non-contact practices; although, to his credit, he had shaped up by the time training camp rolled around.
When Brown tore his labrum partway through the 2017 season, the Niners staff expected him to use their preferred rehabilitation centers in California. Instead, Brown went to Florida for physical therapy. A few days before he traded Brown away, Niners general manager John Lynch insinuated that Brown’s fitness struggles may have continued during his rehabilitation: “Trent’s a big man, so keeping him fit during the process has been a challenge for him and one that he’s attacking.”
Last Word on Trent Brown
Brown has very little to prove about his abilities on the field in order to win the starting left tackle job. Unfortunately, he may have his work cut out for him when it comes to discipline. Bill Belichick is famous for the hard line he takes with his players. And Tom Brady will not take kindly to it if poor conditioning on the offensive line ends his 2018 season early. If Brown is unable to hold the starting position at left tackle, either because of injury or being dropped down the depth chart, Brady will take a beating while playing at an unprecedented age. Thankfully, history communicates that Brown has what it takes to keep Brady upright as long as he takes the field.