Preston Brown: new man in the middle.
How much does Preston Brown love Cincinnati?
He lives downtown so close to Paul Brown Stadium that he can bike to his new job.
Despite offers to train in the offseason in the sun and fun, he always returns to Ignition Sports hard by I-275 in suburban Mason, Ohio and to join his football-coach dad for drills at the University of Cincinnati.
Even though he never missed a game during his four NFL seasons in Buffalo and emerged as one of the league's more productive linebackers, he took a one-year-I'll-show-you-deal with his hometown Bengals Friday thought to be at $5 million.
"Growing up I always dreamed of playing here," said the kid from College Hill who wore a Cincinnati, Ohio T-Shirt as he signed on the bottom line. "Today I fulfilled that dream and I couldn't be happier."
And how much do the Bengals covet Brown?
Even though they spent more than they envisioned in free agency with the Cordy Glenn trade and the Tyler Eifert deal, Brown's contract quickly came together Friday morning with Cincinnati-based agent Brian Hamilton making it an all hometown story. Brown may be the first guy the Bengals have signed with a Chad Johnson Fat Head in his basement.
How much did they want him?
Brown is an unrestricted free agent that counts against gaining draft picks in the free-agent compensation formula.
"You're going to love this move," said Clif Marshall, the former Ignition director. "He eats, breathes, and sleeps football. He comes from a football family. That's what you're getting a relentless guy who is going to be a leader for you."
The Bengals kept their week of free-agent surprises rolling Friday when they didn't have to leave Cincinnati to find a tag-team partner for linebacker Vontaze Burfict and inked Brown, the NFL leading tackler this past season.
Here's evidence that the reports of Tez Trade talks were bogus. The signing of Brown, the ex-middle linebacker for the Bills, allows Burfict to stay at his preferred spot at WILL and has the coaches excited about teaming the two in the middle of the field. It gives them two NFL tackling champions, a title Burfict won in 2013 at WILL in a Pro Bowl season.
Believe it that Burfict is one of the many draws.
"Look at the defensive line. Look at the linebackers already here. It was something that definitely attracted me," Brown said. "Burfict is one of my favorite players in the whole league so to get an opportunity to play with him and behind Geno Atkins, I couldn't pass it down."
Since Brown came into the league in 2014, Burfict has struggled with injuries and suspension and has played just 36 games. But it shows you how good he is that he still leaves an impression on guys like Brown.
Preston Brown signs on the line in Cincinnati, Ohio.
"I just like the way he plays with that passion and emotion. Making plays in the backfield, intercepting the ball. He does everything," Brown said. "I think that definitely helps me being with a guy that's had so much success in the league already."
Bengals linebackers coach Jim Haslett, another former Bills linebacker, can't get enough of the guy.
"He's durable. He's played lot games. He controls the middle in the run game," Haslett said. "He's big, he's athletic, and he can run the middle of the field. I really liked him when he was coming out in 2014. He was my top free agent."
Another reason the Bengals like the deal: Brown doesn't turn 26 until midway through the season.
And here's why Haslett really like the deal. Brown is a 260-pound load that can move. No, Haslett says, he's not a throw-back Nubber playing MIKE.
"He's a modern linebacker," Haslett said. "He's just a big one."
But Burfict might miss the first four games. According to ESPN, he's appealing a four-game suspension for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances. If Burfict doesn't win the appeal, it marks the third straight season Burfict has started the season on the suspended list. He missed the first three games in each of 2016 and 2017 for violating player safety rules.
Brown is a Gold Star special, a Cincy kid that played his high school ball at Northwest High School before he starred at Louisville. Brown looks to be a pure 4-3 MIKE backer, a solid guy with solid production. He's never missed a game in his four seasons, he never comes off the field (he could team with Burfict in the nickel package) and they love the leadership skills he displayed in Buffalo after arriving as a third-round pick.
"Look at him on tape and you can tell he's a leader of their defense," Haslett said. "They went through a number of head coaches and coordinators, so I think that will help."
Marshall, now the strength and conditioning coach for Indiana University basketball, sent Brown Puff Daddy's "I'm coming home," on Friday. That's the place where the Chad Johnson Fat Head and the Chad and T.J. Houshmandzadeh bobble heads are still in the basement.
"Corey Dillon, Chad Johnson, T.J. All the guys everybody loved," Brown said of his favorites. "Dream come true."