THE CANADIAN PRESS
Pete Carroll won’t have one of his biggest defensive weapons Sunday when the Seattle Seahawks face the Buffalo Bills at Rogers Centre.
Brandon Browner, the former Calgary Stampeders cornerback, will miss Buffalo’s "home" game, the final contest of the inaugural Bills Toronto Series that began in 2008. He’s currently serving a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s drug policy and is sidelined for the remainder of the regular season.
If the Seahawks (8-5) qualify for the playoffs, Browner would be eligible to return in time for the post-season. And Carroll says not having the six-foot-four, 221-pound Browner in the lineup creates a huge void in Seattle’s secondary.
"He’s really a first-line factor," the Seahawks head coach said during a conference call. "The size and savvy he brought makes him a real problem for opponents.
"There’s not another six-foot-four guy you can plug in there so he’s very rare."
Following his college career at Oregon State, Browner joined the NFL’s Denver Broncos as an undrafted free agent in 2005. But after spending his rookie season on injured reserve, Browner was released prior to the ’06 campaign.
Browner wasn’t out of work long, landing with the Stampeders shortly afterwards. The California native adjusted quickly to the pass-happy Canadian game, being named a CFL all-star three times and helping Calgary win the 2008 Grey Cup.
Browner signed with Seattle after the 2010 season and wasted no time impressing Carroll.
"He came in and ran very well for us on his workout day," Carroll said. "I thought at that point we might have a real gem and he has been nothing but that.
"He started after a few days for us and has been a starter ever since."
Browner registered 54 tackles and six interceptions with Seattle last season, returning two picks for TDs. He was voted to the Pro Bowl as an alternate but ended up playing in the game.
Browner hasn’t skipped a beat this season with 44 tackles and three interceptions. More importantly, he possesses the size and skill required to match up physically with bigger, taller receivers but is also athletic and quick enough to cover them one-on-one.
Browner is also giving Seattle a huge bang for the buck.
He signed a three-year, US$1.29-million deal Jan. 21, 2011 with a reported salary of US$460,000 this year and $550,000 in 2013. But Browner fits nicely into Seattle’s economic blueprint as the franchise’s entire secondary (10 players) reportedly costs just a combined $11.1 million.
By comparison, Champ Bailey of the Denver Broncos is regarded as the NFL’s highest-paid cornerback, with the 34-year-old said to be earning $11.5 million this season as well as next.
And following the 2011 season, defensive lineman Mario Williams signed a six-year, $100-million deal ($50 million guaranteed) as a free agent with Buffalo.
Carroll has been aware of Browner’s prowess for a while. It was during his time in the Pac-10 as head coach at USC (2001-’09) that Carroll first became familiar with Browner’s ability as a high school player at Pacoima, Calif.
"That story goes way back to when he was a junior in high school," Carroll said. "We had him in camps and looked at him and didn’t go on him in recruiting but we played against him at Oregon State and he killed us.
"After he left (Oregon State), I totally lost track of him. One day (Seahawks’ GM) John Schneider said, ‘Hey we’ve got a guy coming in to work out named Brandon Browner.’ I said, ‘Is that the kid from Pacoima?’ and he said, ‘Yeah, it is.’
"We looked it up and, shoot, he had had three years of being an All-Canadian and as soon as I heard that, I thought, ‘If this is who I’m thinking it is, I know he’s really tall, I knew he was a great player in college and just forgot about him. If he showed up there and played bump-and-run and was recognized as a good player, he might be a really special."’
Walter Thurmond, a 2010 fourth-round draft pick, is taking Browner’s spot at right cornerback but Carroll could soon have another hole to fill. Richard Sherman, the starter at left cornerback, is also facing a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs and is continuing to play the result of an appeal.
A date for Sherman’s hearing hasn’t yet been determined. Carroll says the Seahawks have a lot of depth in the secondary but admits being forced to make due without Browner won’t be easy for Seattle.
"We have really good guys in the program we’re excited about.," he said. "Walter Thurmond has played really well the last two weeks … and we have young guys who’ve jumped in and played pretty well last week (in 58-0 win over Arizona) and we’re going to try to keep it going.
"But you’re not going to replace a six-foot-four guy who has the savvy and play-making ability and is a Pro Bowler in his first year in the league. That’s hard to replace."
There’s also the challenge of keeping the Seahawks focused following last weekend’s lopsided victory over Arizona. The question now is how Seattle will handle such success heading into Sunday’s game in Toronto?
"Hopefully really well," Carroll said. "This was a game we were very fortunate to have go the way it went … but it’s already long behind us.
"It doesn’t mean anything if we don’t win this week. We’ll turn our focus right to this game and that’s what we’re after."