UNC in NFL: Zach Brown poised for a big deal this offseason

SEATTLE, WA - NOVEMBER 05: Quarterback Russell Wilson
SEATTLE, WA - NOVEMBER 05: Quarterback Russell Wilson /

Former Tar Heel linebacker Zach Brown has likely played his way into a big contract this offseason

Zach Brown has been one of the NFL’s most underrated linebackers for a long time now.

During his final season at UNC, the South Carolina native had a monster year, collecting 105 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, and three interceptions. His play during his senior season led to the Tennessee Titans drafting him 52nd overall in the 2012 NFL Draft.

Brown played 49 games over four seasons with the team and notched totals of 261 tackles, 10 sacks. six interceptions, and two defensive touchdowns. Despite enjoying success with the Titans, they opted to not resign him. In 2016, he signed a one-year contract to serve as a backup linebacker with the Buffalo Bills.

When then-rookie Reggie Ragland tore his ACL in training camp, Brown became the starter for the regular season. He shocked the NFL landscape, posting 149 tackles, four sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception. His performance earned him second-team All-Pro honors and his first Pro Bowl nod.

Though Brown was one of the better free agent linebackers, he didn’t sign with a team until early April. The Redskins gave him a one-year contract and Brown went back to work.

With the Redskins, Brown finished ninth in the NFL with 127 tackles and was named a Pro Bowl alternate. The 28-year-old is in the prime of his career and looking to earn his first big multi-year contract.

Brown should be a hot commodity in the free agent market for teams in need of an off-ball linebacker. The Redskins will likely try to retain him at all costs, judging by the comments of head coach Jay Gruden:

"“I was impressed… We got a very athletic guy that can run sideline to sideline and make some plays.”“He’s a guy that it’s hard to replace his type of speed… We’ve got a lot of linebackers there, but we do like Zach Brown’s speed and athleticism.”"

If the Redskins decide not to bring back Brown,  several other teams make sense for the former Tar Heel. The Miami Dolphins are in need of a sideline-to-sideline linebacker, and are expected to pursue his services.

Recent contracts handed out to Alec Ogletree and Telvin Smith totaled cash north of $10 million a year. Brown’s agent will be looking to land that type of yearly money in addition to high guarantees.

It is certainly possible Brown will settle for a little less than what those stars received. A three-year, 25 million dollar deal is probably within the range Brown can expect this free agency period.

Next: A look at where Tar Heels stand for future football classes.

The UNC alum has been one of the league’s better linebackers for the past three years, and will surely capitalize this offseason. No player likes living on one-year contracts. Brown will hope to be locked in long-term and earn his first, and possibly last, big payday.