WASHINGTON — The Redskins have signed inside linebacker Zach Brown to a one-year contract, according to his agent.
Brown, 27, is an intriguing addition. He joins a unit that includes Mason Foster and the unsigned Will Compton, who remains a restricted free agent after being tendered an offer of $1.797 million.
It’s unclear if Washington intends to move on from Compton. If he signs an offer sheet with another team there is no compensation if the Redskins choose not to match it.
Inside linebacker wasn’t the top priority when fixing the defense this offseason. Compton and Foster started a combined 28 games last season. Compton was the primary signal caller. But an overall upgrade to the talent level on defense definitely was a priority and the Redskins accomplished that with the Brown signing no matter how the roles shake out.
Brown has made a steady rise since his days at Wilde Lake High in Columbia, Md. He attended Hargrave Military Academy and then didn’t even start full time at North Carolina until his senior season in 2011. But he played so well that year he was a second-round draft pick by the Tennessee Titans the following spring.
A starter at inside linebacker for the Titans in 2012 and 2013, Brown suffered a torn pectoral muscle just four snaps into the 2014 season. He returned to start five games in 2015, but was not re-signed. Tennessee coaches tended to publicly critique Brown’s effort and production during his time there, especially during a rough 2013 season.
But Brown enjoyed his breakthrough NFL season in 2016 after signing a one-year deal with the Buffalo Bills for $1.25 million. He finished with four sacks, an interception and two forced fumbles and had 149 tackles under former Bills coach Rex Ryan. That total ranked second in the NFL and was good enough for a Pro Bowl selection.
At 6-foot-1, 248 pounds, Brown can move for a big man. That sideline-to-sideline speed is something the Washington linebacker corps has struggled with at times. Foster had a strong finish to the season and Compton was the primary signal caller.
Compton tweeted out congratulations to Brown on his personal Twitter account on Monday, but there has been some concern over his role given the organization put an original-round tender on him. Compton was not drafted and so another team wouldn’t give up anything to sign him. By contrast, running back Chris Thompson was given a second-round tender, making it far more costly – and less likely – for another team to make a run at signing him.
Compton is a former practice squad player who rose to a starting role in 2015 and started 15 games in 2016. Foster started 13 games for Washington.
The other inside linebackers on the roster are: Foster, Martrell Spaight, Steven Daniels, Khairi Fortt and Pete Robinson. Spaight, a 2015 fifth-round pick, was the primary backup to Compton last season. Daniels, a 2016 seventh-round selection, hurt his shoulder in training camp and missed the season.
Washington was about $11.3 million over the salary cap entering the day on Monday. The Redskins need to hold some money for what is expected to be a large draft class. They have 10 picks. But Washington can always restructure other contracts, if needed. Veteran safety DeAngelo Hall, coming off a torn ACL, is one candidate for that.
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