In the 2018 offseason, the Bengals found a unicorn.
They found a free agent who put the Bengals at the top of his list of destinations.
Players like this are nearly impossible to find. Usually, outside free agents only want to sign with the Bengals if they offer more money than the competition. So finding Preston Brown, a Cincinnati native and aspiring Bengal, was huge.
That made it all the more frustrating when Brown hit injured reserve in mid-November last year.
Thankfully, Brown broke the trend of one-and-done free agent linebackers in Cincinnati. He is now under contract until 2021, and has a chance to redeem himself after a disappointing end to 2018.
Without sounding overly dramatic, Brown might be the most important player on the defense in 2019. The linebacker corps is coming off of a dreadful season, and Brown, who will probably play more snaps than anyone else in the front seven, has a chance to become the leader of the group. If he can have a comeback season, then the defense might be back to playoff caliber.
Hometown: Cincinnati, OH
Experience: Entering his sixth season
Brown came to Cincinnati on a one-year contract in 2018. The ink just dried on a brand new deal to keep around until 2021, with a potential out next offseason.
His cap hit in 2019 is $4.72 million, according to Spotrac.com, with the potential to earn another $2M through workout, roster, and per-game active bonuses.
The Bengals signed Brown to a one-year contract in 2018 as a cog in Teryl Austin’s new defense. Ironically, Austin was fired the day after Brown was sent to IR.
Even though Brown only played in seven games in 2018, he hadn’t missed a game in his career in his four years with the Bills. After being drafted in the third round, Brown made his first career start in Week 3 of his rookie year in 2014. That was the first of 62 straight starts over the next four years.
Brown was a hot commodity after becoming a free agent in 2018. He had just made his first and only playoff appearance thanks to Tyler Boyd and the Bengals along with and was the NFL leader in combined tackles with 144. The Bengals reached out, and Brown signed with his hometown team, making this the first time playing football in Cincinnati for the home team since his Northwest High School days in 2009.
His 2018 season got off to a bittersweet start.
On the first defensive drive of the season, Brown intercepted Andrew Luck in the red zone in the Bengals’ wild 34-23 win over the Colts. However, he sprained his ankle in that game and his streak of starts came to an end in Week 2.
Brown came back in Week 4, but he was never the same player he was in Buffalo. He only recorded 42 combined and 27 solo tackles, which both extrapolate to a career-lows if he played in all 16 games.
The one bright spot for the season was in the passing game, where Brown tied his career high in interceptions and passes defended in only seven games. This ability to defend the pass, along with his fellow linebackers Nick Vigil and Germaine Pratt (who was playing safety at NC State three years ago) will help the Bengals defense, who had some of the worst pass-defending linebackers in the league.
The Bengals left the linebacker position fairly intact this offseason, and re-signing Brown sure helped.
There were probably some Bengals fans that wanted the Bengals to draft a linebacker with every pick they had, especially since Devin Bush went one spot before they were on the clock. That being the case, the Bengals only drafted one linebacker, and waited until the third round to grab Pratt.
The Bengals not only re-signed Brown, but they upgraded his contract. This isn’t a one-off, one-year contract that they usually give to veteran linebackers. This is a serious deal worth some serious money. He’ll be earning more yearly cash than any other linebacker on the team. This tells us that he not only will be on the field, but he will be the leader of the group.
The Bengals clearly expect him to be Bills’ Preston Brown, so that means he will be on the field for every down, in every situation.
With the heightened expectations facing Brown, there is next to no chance is not the Bengals starting middle linebacker in 2019. Even if Brown were to suffer a season-ending injury before Week 1, the Bengals will probably still stick him back on IR. But since nothing is ever 100% guaranteed, we will give the universe that one percent chance that Brown doesn’t make the team.
Roster odds: 99%