FLAGSTAFF – Levi Brown had chances to go to multiple other teams after the Cardinals decided to terminate his salary-cap unfriendly contract in the spring.
The Cardinals had a chance to move on at left tackle.
But here are both sides at Northern Arizona University, with Brown continuing his career in Arizona after signing a new five-year deal just a few days after he was cut. An alternative was never really considered by either side.
“It didn’t really cross my mind to go somewhere else,” Brown said Monday. “And to me, going somewhere else doesn’t necessarily mean a fresh start.”
Brown’s play has long been the target of criticism. But his play improved over the second half of 2011, and even before he was released the team let him know they wanted to keep him around. Coach Ken Whisenhunt said he had multiple conversations with Brown along those lines, and offensive line coach Russ Grimm was blunt when talking about why the team didn’t choose to go in a different direction.
“He’s the best guy we got for the spot,” Grimm said. “That’s the bottom line right there.”
To Brown, a new contract can also mean a new beginning. His family has settled in Arizona. Other places, starting over, didn’t appeal to him. As he has pointed out, with the media coverage of the NFL, it wouldn’t be like stories of his struggles wouldn’t follow him to a new team.
Grimm said he thought Brown was “a little pissed off” at this point in his career. Brown laughed that off and said he didn’t know what that meant – “You never know with Russ,” he said – and Grimm said it was more that Brown knows he could have played better.
“Like I tell him, it’s six inches from pat on the back to a slap in the face,” Grimm said. “You’re not always as good as they say you are, and you’re not always as bad as they think you are. It’s a fine line. He’s a smart kid and I think he’ll be a lot better this year.
“The perception is what it is. But Levi Brown, to me, is a hell of a football player.”
Brown said it was technique improvements – for example, hand placement and making sure to keep his head over his knees – that helped his progress last season. They are details that can slide when a player gets tired.
Whisenhunt is looking for more consistency. Brown wants to make sure he picks up where he left off at the end of the season. Grimm praised Brown for the various things he was asked to do in context of the blocking scheme – “A lot of times, (he’ll) get hung out to dry,” Grimm said -- but Brown brushed it off.
“It’s a demanding position, but that’s what I’m here for,” Brown said.
That Brown was willing to stick around earned him a lot of respect from Whisenhunt, who, like Grimm, is well aware of the perception of Brown, especially with his status as a former No. 5 overall pick.
The perception may not fade anytime soon, in part because of Brown’s decision to stay. Brown understands.
“Criticism is what it is,” Brown said. “The media’s job is to stir up controversy and guys have done a good job with that, but it doesn’t really bother me. From high school on up people have doubted me and I continue to prove them wrong, so really means nothing to me what other people think. I know what I am capable of.”