Cornerback Brandon Browner's time with the Seattle Seahawks ended ignominiously when he was suspended indefinitely last December for multiple violations of the NFL's substance abuse policy. Browner had first been suspended in late November, and was facing a possible year-long suspension as a Stage 3 offender in the NFL’s drug program. Browner was suspended four games late in the 2012 season for a violation of the league’s policies against performance-enhancing substances, which is separate from the NFL’s drug policy. As a result, he missed the Seahawks' run to the Super Bowl and the franchise's first NFL championship, though Seattle's defensive excellence was something that he helped build.
On March 4, Browner tweeted that he had been reinstated by the NFL, and he will serve a four-game suspension to start the 2014 season -- that was going to happen no matter where he went. The New England Patriots were apparently undeterred by this, signing Browner to a three-year, $17 million deal on Friday evening. Browner had been meeting with the Pats since Thursday, and the Redskins and Saints also expressed interest.
The Seahawks plucked Browner out of the Canadian Football League in 2011, and the 6-4, 221-pound defender made the Pro Bowl in his first season in Seattle. Through 2011 and 2012, Browner and Richard Sherman combined to make life very, very difficult for opposing receivers with their size and aggressiveness. However, Browner's game started to trail off in 2013, and even before his suspension, he was losing time to backups Byron Maxwell and Walter Thurmond. He'll likely be a bookend to Darrelle Revis in New England's defense, though with his size and declining speed, Browner (who will turn 30 in August) may be more serviceable as a hybrid cornerback/safety, or in various nickel roles.
Browner’s suspension is also more complicated story than is typical. When he first came into the league in 2005, he failed a drug test while in the Denver Broncos’ employ. The Broncos released him in 2006. After that, according to a source familiar with the situation, Browner ran low on money and was sleeping on friends’ couches to stay solvent while he waited for another shot at pro football. He was automatically placed in Stage 3 of the program because he missed multiple notifications for drug tests when his cell phone service apparently lapsed. Browner played with the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League from 2006 through 2010, and maintained his Stage 3 status when he returned to the NFL with the Seahawks in 2011.
Browner passed multiple tests per week from 2011 through 2013 without a hitch, but failed another non-PED test, and that tripped the year-long suspension. Had he not missed those notifications years ago, he would face a few missed game checks at best, and a four-game suspension at worst. Browner’s appeal concluded in late November, and the Seahawks had been awaiting a result for almost a month.
At his appeal, Browner claimed that he never received any notifications (which the league said existed in writing), and that he missed drug tests when he was not in the league.
This is a high-risk deal for the Pats, and they'd best have backups. Browner is one more suspension away from the kind of suspension that could end his career, and his trail speed was noticeably down last season. He's not a player who's going to turn and run against receivers playing more advanced routes, though he'll continue to be very, very aggressive with receivers at the line of scrimmage. With Revis on board in Foxboro, and with rookie cornerback Logan Ryan
playing so well last year, Browner may be most valuable as a moveable chess piece, and few coaches understand how to re-generate the careers of veterans by putting them in different spots than Bill Belichick.