The hammer has officially been dropped. This past Wednesday the NFL announced that cornerback Brandon Browner will be suspended indefinitely for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. The initial suspension was only supposed to span 365 days, yet the length of the suspension escalated after Browner lost his appeal.
The third-year corner out of Oregon State tried to argue that his missed drug tests took place while he was in the CFL, but his appeal was denied because the league had notified him of his tests in writing.
Nonetheless, Browner’s agent Peter Schaffer told Pro Football Talk that the defensive back is poised to sue the NFL if he is unable to successfully overturn the suspension. Schaffer didn’t give specifics, but he did say he will try other tactics to clear Browner’s name before he sues.
Obviously, Browner believes he is innocent.
Yet, he would have been better off accepting the league’s plea deal. The plea deal would have at least given the 29-year-old corner hope in terms of playing in the NFL again, but his hope may now be gone. Why? Because an indefinite suspension means Browner is suspended for an undefined amount of time.
Without a doubt, the suspension hurts the Seattle Seahawks' depth, yet they have no other choice than to move on and find his eventual replacement. The good news is general manager John Schneider and head coach Pete Carroll have drafted incredibly well since their arrival in 2010.
This, in turn, means Browner’s replacement may already be on the 53-man roster. Ever since the Pro Bowl corner was sidelined with a groin injury in Week 10, third-year pro Byron Maxwell has stepped in and performed at a top-notch level.
According to the analysts at Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Maxwell has quickly established himself as the 10th-best cover corner in the league. On 39 targets, he has surrendered 20 receptions for 222 yards. Additionally, he has 11 passes defended and three interceptions in 362 snaps.
What more could the Seahawks’ coaching staff ask for at this point? Aside from outperforming expectations, Maxwell is solidifying himself as the team’s starting right cornerback of the future.
Say what you want about the Seahawks, but they know how to draft and coach up talent at the cornerback position. It’s not like Maxwell was a stud coming out of college. Some scouts believed he would never make it as a cornerback in the NFL. They thought he would need to convert to safety in order to excel.
That right there just goes to show that even the most underrated of players can shine when they are drafted by the right team.
However, Maxwell isn’t the only player who has stepped in and played at a high level in Browner’s absence. Fans and media members alike have also been impressed by the play of second-year corner Jeremy Lane.
Despite being relegated to the slot more often than not, Lane has held his own over the course of the last three weeks. In 123 snaps, he has allowed eight measly completions, 47 yards receiving and zero touchdowns. Moreover, opposing quarterbacks have a lowly quarterback rating of 56.3 when throwing into his coverage area.
Like Maxwell, Lane was overlooked. He was a small-school guy who lacked top-end speed and athleticism. Only a handful of scouts viewed him as an NFL-caliber corner. Naysayers said he would be confined to special teams play for the entirety of his career.
Making a living as a special teams player is not a bad thing, yet Seattle knew it had found something special in the sixth round of the 2012 draft. Lane’s success wouldn’t come overnight, but Schneider and Carroll knew it would come eventually.
Here’s what Carroll told Clare Farnsworth of Seahawks.com after Lane’s speed first caught his eye during training camp:
He showed on deep balls an extraordinary burst at the end of the play that was rare. It called me to go back to him and talk to him about his track times because his 40 (-yard dash) time was not a time that would be indicative of a guy that can do that.
Carroll’s training camp praise spilled over into the regular season. After the Seahawks' win over the New York Giants, he went out of his way to gush about the way Maxwell and Lane have performed with Browner sidelined, via Terry Blount of ESPN.com:
I think it’s a great statement to our system. These guys know how to do what we want them to do. They are playing great technique with great attitude. They’ve been indoctrinated into the system.
With that being said, it's safe to say Seattle won’t miss Browner. Sure, defensive coordinator Dan Quinn would have liked to have him around for depth purposes, but that’s it. Some would even argue that the Seahawks are better off without him.
Personally, I can’t argue with that notion. Based on the numbers and the game tape, Maxwell and Lane are playing with better technique, while allowing fewer explosive plays in the passing game. There’s no question that Browner’s injury and suspension has been a blessing in disguise for the Seahawks.
Two underrated players who were buried on the bench have helped the Seahawks defense become a more dominant force. Yes, it’s hard to believe their defense improved after they lost a Pro Bowl player, but that’s Seattle for you.
The ‘Hawks have the most talented roster in the NFL, and they keep getting better week in and week out. By the time postseason play starts in January, there may not be a team out there that has built up more momentum down the stretch than the Seahawks.
Furthermore, Seattle won’t let the absence of one player (Browner) derail the team’s Super Bowl aspirations. In all likelihood, Browner has played his last down as a member of the Seahawks.
He had a good run in the Pacific Northwest, and he played a part in the team’s success, but the future of Seattle's secondary is now.