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2018 free agency: LB Zach Brown an upgrade or more of the same for Giants?

Would veteran ILB be a stop-gap, or a real answer?

NFL: Washington Redskins at Los Angeles Chargers
Zach Brown stuffs a running play against the Los Angeles Chargers.
Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Giants need help at the linebacker position. I was clear in my feelings about that in a post just a few days ago.

Unfortunately for the Giants, this is not a great year to be looking for difference-making linebackers in free agency. In it’s 2018 free agency guide, Pro Football Focus says “nobody is finding an impact Pro Bowler” in free agency and calls the group of potential free agents “one of the weakest positions in free agency.”

Obviously, that isn’t great for the Giants as they transition to a defense under coordinator James Bettcher that is expected to feature the 3-4 alignment.

We have already discussed one of the better linebackers who might hit the free agent market, Nigel Bradham of the Philadelphia Eagles. Today, let’s discuss another — inside linebacker Zach Brown.

The 28-year-old Brown is a six-year veteran who spent last season with the Washington Redskins, where he made 127 tackles (84 solo). He spent four seasons with the Tennessee Titans and one with the Buffalo Bills, where he made the Pro Bowl in 2016.

The Pro Bowl appearance did not bring Brown a big windfall on the free agent market last year, as he ended up signing a one-year, $2.3 million deal with Washington. Will his 127-tackle season earn him a bigger paycheck, or a multi-year deal?

Among free agent inside linebackers, Brown was fourth in PFF’s runs-stop percentage stat, at 9.7 percent. He had 31 stops and eight missed tackles in 318 run defense snaps. Brown was effective as a pass rusher, with 2.5 sacks. His pass-rush productivity score of 19 was third among free agent inside linebackers as he had 15 total pressures in 62 pass rush snaps. Brown was only 11th in tackling efficiency, per PFF.

Brown’s overall PFF score of 61.8 ranked in PFF’s “below average” category.

PFF says:

Zach Brown is now looking for his fourth team in as many seasons, and his last two seasons have been the biggest in terms of playing time in his NFL career. He has made a lot of tackles and defensive stops over the past two seasons, grading well in the run game, but his coverage was a disaster in 2017, and his overall grade slipped to just 61.8 as a result. He flashes the ability to be a complete player but has rarely put it all together at once.

In my view, Brown seems a lot like the kind of veteran stop-gap player the Giants have relied on in recent years. Unfortunately, at least in free agency, they might find it difficult to do better this time around.