As free agency loomed after a career year for Zach Brown in 2016, when he led the NFL in tackles, the 6-foot-1 linebacker had a choice to make.
Brown, a North Carolina Tar Heel alum, led the league with 149 tackles, 97 of which were solo. A linebacker that can play in space and hunt down ball carriers was something the Redskins wanted to improve upon prior to the 2017 season.
As his season ended in Buffalo, Brown would come to realize it would be his last in a Bills uniform. After just one year as a member of the Bills, and four prior with the Tennessee Titans, Brown was on the move again.
A highly touted linebacker in the 2016 free agent class, Brown visited Washington with grueling energy, and high hopes. The Redskins signed Brown to a one-year “prove it” deal, and he proved to be worth every penny.
After ranking ninth in the NFL (fourth in the NFC), with 127 tackles in 2017, Brown’s one-year deal proved its worth, as the Redskins re-signed the 250-pound linebacker to a multi-year deal on March 15, 2018.
This years’ campaign was an unusual one for Brown, as he dealt with a nagging oblique injury. However, he wasn’t going to let that stop him from playing each and every week. Pro Footbal Focus graded him the best defender on the team.
“I didn’t want to let my guys down on the field, you know, my teammates," he said.
Brown suffered a torn oblique during the season, an injury in which he said the muscle was “torn off his left rib." But Brown continued to grind it out.
“You can’t breathe. You move, cough, anything, it hurts. So it was painful," Brown sais. "Every day it would flare up and I would have a purple bruise, so, it was painful the first 10 games.”
As we look back at his production, Brown’s tackles dropped significantly after week 10. He brought down 41 ball carriers from week 1-10, nut made 25 from weeks 11-17.
In an offseason filled with questions at many positions, Brown himself is unsure of his status come Week 1 ofthe 2019 season in Washington.
“You know you might not see half of these guys again, and most of us might be going to a new team, might not. It’s been crazy, you never know what might happen," he said. "Might be here, might not. There’s a lot of people that are about to be free agents.”
Free agency however is something Brown is all too familiar with as he has played for three teams in his seven-year NFL career thus far.
Brown’s speed and ability to tackle in the open field has been a positive addition to the middle of Washington’s defense, and having him back would surely boost a young core of talented defensive ball hawks for head coach Jay Gruden’s defense.
“Zach Brown played more sub defense. His ability to run. We liked what we saw, so he played more and more,"Gruden said. "There's people in that room that are good, but you're always looking to improve your team."
As the Redskins start looking towards the fall, there was a specific moment for Brown that he enjoyed the most.
“Beating the [Dallas] Cowboys was a good one,” Brown said. “A great memory.”