As the new league nears and with the 2021 salary cap finally cemented at $182.5 million, teams across the league are shedding the contracts of notable veteran players to free up more space in order to retain more coveted commodities and take some swings in free agency.
On Wednesday, a familiar face to the Baltimore Ravens became available when the Buffalo Bills released WR John ‘Smokey’ Brown. The seven-year veteran wideout has spent the last two seasons in upstate New York, where he recorded 105 receptions for 1,518 yards and nine touchdowns with the Buffalo Bills.
#Bills WR John Brown announced on Instagram that he's been released, saving Buffalo nearly $8M against the cap. Dealt with some injuries this past season but still a productive player. Became expendable in Buffalo. pic.twitter.com/QYWlpxeMKe— NFL Update (@MySportsUpdate) March 10, 2021
Prior to signing a three-year deal worth $27 million in the 2019 offseason, Brown spent the 2018 season in Baltimore on a one-year deal worth $5 million. He finished as the Ravens’ leader in receiving yards (715), touchdowns (five), and yards per catch (17).
Brown was on pace for the second 1,000 plus yard season of his career and the first since 2015 through the first nine games that year — before former franchise QB Joe Flacco went down and a rookie Lamar Jackson was inserted into the starting lineup.
He would, however, go on to eclipse the 1,000-yard receiving mark in his first season with the Bills in 2019. Brown recorded 72 receptions for 1,060 yards and six touchdowns in 15 games.
Brown can still take the top off a defense with blazing speed, pick up chunks of yardage after the catch, can go up for the ball, and can make plays at the intermediate level over the middle as well as outside the numbers.
Playmaking ability has never been an issue with Brown but availability has. He has played a full 16 game slate just twice in his career. Injury-riddled final seasons spelled the end of his tenure with both the Bills and the Arizona Cardinals, who he began his career with after being selected in the third round of the 2014 draft out of Pittsburgh State University.
When he’s on the field, he can be an impact player that shines in a complementary role but shouldn’t be counted on to consistently play a featured one. Just like in 2018, Brown could be likely be signed at a discount since he’s coming off a down year where injuries limited him to nine games and eight starts.
Some might argue that Brown would be reluctant to return to the Ravens since they have a run-first offense and Jackson’s elevation into full-time starter status in 2018 coincided with his dip in production down the stretch that year.
However, Jackson has improved lightyears as a passer from his rookie year where he threw for just eight touchdowns in eight starts including the playoffs. He led the league with 36 passing touchdowns in 2019 during his unanimous MVP campaign and put up a respectable 26 in 2020.
The Ravens don’t have a high-volume passing attack like the one Brown played in with the Bills last season but they have proven that they can be just as potent. Jackson’s maturation as a passer and the Ravens’ need to add and upgrade at receiver could make a reunion more appealing for Brown and mutually beneficial for both parties.
He will likely sit on the market for a while but could be a solid low-risk addition in the second wave of free agency or following the draft. Since he is a salary cap casualty, he also won’t impact the compensatory pick formula.