UPDATE 3:53 PM: The NFL and NFLPA have formally announced that Browner will be suspended for the first four games of the 2014 season given that he complies with the Substance Abuse Policy and Program until he returns. You can read the full statement here.
Brandon Browner is a very good football player when he's on the field. After going undrafted out of Oregon State and playing four seasons in the CFL, he finally stuck on his first NFL roster in 2011 with the Seattle Seahawks. His three years in Seattle have been very productive on the field. He has started all 36 games he has played in, amassing 10 interceptions and 104 tackles. He made the Pro Bowl in 2011 and is known as one of the hardest hitting defensive backs in the league. (I have often compared his bone-jarring hits to the Vikings Ring of Honor member with the same surname, Joey Browner.) Brandon also excels on special teams, which is a rare added perk for a defensive starter.
Brandon Browner has had a very hard time staying on the field to show how good of a football player he is. He missed half of the 2013 season due to injury and a suspension for violating the NFL's Drug and Alcohol program, allegedly for marijuana. Browner was reportedly in "Stage Three" of the program due to missing NFL-mandated drug tests while he was still in Canada playing for the CFL. He was facing a year-long suspension for his latest infraction due to where he was at in the program. However, Browner claimed that he shouldn't have been that advanced in the program; his agent threatened to sue the league to reinstate Browner.
Apparently the threat of a lawsuit worked--the NFL reinstated Browner on Monday and he will be able to free to sign with any team once free agency begins Tuesday, March 11. Browner released a statement expressing his gratitude about the league's decision:
I received wonderful news today. The NFL has reinstated me, and I now have the opportunity to prove to the fans and my teammates how important this sport is to me. I realize now more than ever that being part of the NFL is not a right, but a privilege. I am grateful that Commissioner Goodell and my agent were able to resolve this issue in a positive, productive manner so I can continue my career, provide for my family, and help my team win a Super Bowl. Thank you to all who have gone out of their way to show their support. I will live up to your expectations of me.
It's obvious that Browner is excited to get back on the field. The one thing that isn't certain is Browner's status for the start of next season. It remains unclear whether or not Browner has accepted a suspension for part of 2014 or if he'll be able to play right away.
Is any of this sounding familiar to you Vikings fans yet? It should. A talented, pending free agent that just got in trouble for weed, who may or may not be facing a suspension to start the year, that just so happens to play a position where the Vikings are incredibly thin...it's the Jerome Simpson story all over again!
Despite all the red flags, the Vikings still acquired Simpson before the 2012 season. The results have been...well, mixed to say the least. So two years later, should the Vikings take a flier on another cautionary tale?
The Vikings could certainly use the help of someone like Browner in their defensive backfield. Minnesota allowed the second most passing yards in the NFL in 2013. Pro Football Focus ranked the Vikings 31st in pass coverage. With Chris Cook counting down the days to free agency and Xavier Rhodes looking like the only redeemable cornerback on the roster, cornerback is a ginormous team need. Chris ranked it the Vikings' second greatest need earlier today just behind quarterback.
While Browner would definitely be an upgrade to the poop parade the Vikings trotted out in the secondary in 2013, we shouldn't consider him an "elite" corner by any means. His NFL Blitz-like hitting always gets him on the highlight reels but his coverage skills are simply above average. He can make plays and pick off passes but Browner shouldn't be considered a shutdown corner at this point in his career. Due to his stint in the CFL, he's also older than most 3-year NFL veterans: Browner will turn 30 in August.
So with Browner possibly missing the first three or four games of the 2014 season, would the Vikings be wise to take a chance on him? On one hand, he might be more trouble than he's worth. On the other hand, his troubles might be driving down his worth, making him a possible free agency steal.
Much like Simpson's situation two years ago, Browner's infractions and possible looming suspension prevent him from having any kind of significant leverage in contract negotiations. I'd be shocked if anyone offered Browner a contract longer than a year or two and with money that's well over the veteran minimum. The only thing that Browner may have working for him is that there are quite a few CB-hungry teams out there right now. Danny Kelly of Seahawks site Field Gulls speculated that the Jaguars and Jets would be interested in Browner's services provided he doesn't face a hefty suspension to start the 2014 season.
To paraphrase the famed American philanthropist Bob Barker, I think the Vikings should pursue Browner if the price is right. Something like a one-year deal with a team option for the second year and a salary of around $1 million per year with playing incentives sounds like a great deal for someone that should be an immediate upgrade over the likes of Cook and Josh Robinson.
Of course, I'm just one blogger that hasn't written much since the 2013 season ended--what do you experts think? Would you be OK with the Vikings pursuing Browner, or would you prefer the team sticks to more stable (if more expensive) options like Alterraun Verner and Jairus Byrd? Let us know in the comments below.