In case you’re wondering how former 49ers tackle Trent Brown has been doing since his trade to New England: pretty damn well. He’s starting at left tackle Sunday in the Super Bowl, favored to win, and heading into free agency with a big payday likely.
A day-two mid-draft trade last spring swapped the last year of Brown’s rookie contract plus the 49ers’ second of two fifth-round picks (#143 overall) for the Patriot’s 3rd round choice (#95).
Those picks turned into cornerback Tarvarius Moore, who showed strong late in the season for San Francisco, and linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley, who won a starting job at LB for New England and was playing great (14 tackles and an interception) before a torn bicep ended his season after 3 games.
Once he arrived in Foxboro, Brown immediately moved to left tackle and took over the starting job from the first day of training camp.
New England saved a lot of money this year by letting their previous left tackle Nate Solder walk; the veteran made $10 million this year for the Giants, going up to $17 million next year. He’s now the NFL’s highest paid offensive lineman.
In contrast, the Patriots are paying a grand total of $1.9M for Brown this year. That changes after this season, since he’s now a free agent, and there are no guarantees Brown will stay with the Patriots. He has a big spotlight in Atlanta to pump up his free agent value, and Belichick is great at getting the most out of inexpensive players.
Then again, New England is a great spot for a young lineman, with a pretty decent quarterback famous for getting rid of the ball quickly, a legendary position coach (Dante Scarnecchia), and talented colleagues on the line.
Brown has improved steadily all season, and has been a stud in the playoffs, holding both Melvin Ingram and Dee Ford to no sacks and one pressure each. He is PFF’s top-graded tackle in the playoffs this year.
Even in the run game, which has always been his weakness, the Patriots have figured out how to make the most of his unique combination of size and mobility: in goal line packages. Zack Cox of New England Sports Network points out that:
Of the Patriots’ eight rushing touchdowns this postseason, six of them have come on runs to Brown’s side, including Rex Burkhead’s fourth-quarter and overtime scores against the Chiefs. “I’m always kind of juiced when the ball is coming behind me, but especially on the goal line, because it ain’t a lot of running anybody can do down there,” said Brown, who’s likely to cash in in free agency this spring. “It’s man-on-man football. That’s about as football as it gets, and it’s just fun.”
He had a star moment in crunch time in the AFC Championship game, luring Ford into lining up offsides, which wiped out a game ending interception. Some fans thought Brown was lined up illegally off the line himself, but photos show that he’s so huge (6’8”, 360 lbs.) that it just looked that way. He helmet broke the plane of the center’s hip, as required, but his back foot was two yards behind any of the other offensive linemen.
That isn’t to say that the Niners made a bad trade. Brown was not a good fit for Kyle Shanahan’s outside zone running game, and only played ten games in 2017 before going on injured reserve. He was called for 18 penalties in 31 games on the Niners, versus only five this entire season, where he’s played 97.3% of the Patriots offensive snaps.
Clearly he’s fitting in better with New England, but San Francisco’s OL also improved by subtraction when Brown left. I don’t think there’s any way that Matt Breida, Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson would have been racked up so many rushing yards in Shanahan’s scheme with Brown still on the team.
If Tarvarius Moore develops into a solid cornerback, this may be one of those rare trades where both teams benefit. Add in the financial implications with Brown headed to free agency, and that could be further noteworthy for the 49ers. That said, I predict that when Bill Belichick retires, New England will miss his work as a GM as much or more than his coaching.
In any case, Trent Brown is looking forward to a Super Bowl bonus check and maybe a ring, plus a big second contract as a starting left tackle somewhere in the NFL next year. Life is good.