Zach Brown has been an NFL linebacker for seven years. In those seven years, he’s never made the playoffs or even played for a team that finished with a .500 record or better.
So, when his agent called five weeks ago and told him the Eagles were interested in signing him, well, he didn’t have to give it a lot of thought.
“When he told me they had called, I said, ‘Cancel everything else. Don’t take calls from anybody else. I want to go there,’ ’’ Brown said.
The truth is, there wasn’t a whole lot else his agent needed to cancel. There were a few other teams interested in the 29-year-old Brown, who was released by the Redskins in mid-March. But they weren’t offering him much more money than the one-year, $1.5 million deal with an additional $1 million in potential incentives that he ended up accepting from the Eagles.
But he didn’t sign with the Eagles for the money. He signed with them because he’s tired of playing for losers. He signed with them because he’s a lot closer to the end of his career than the beginning, and he wants a shot at a Super Bowl ring.
“Being here, it feels good,’’ he said Monday, after the Eagles’ OTA workout. “It feels good when you walk into the building. It’s a different mentality’’ than in Washington. “Everybody comes to work. You might be joking around on the sideline, but everybody pays attention to their job.
“Last year, even though they had a lot of injuries, they still went far. This year, they’re trying to win another [Super Bowl] ring. They’re trying to get back to the [Super Bowl] game, and I’m trying to get there, too.’’
In March 2018, Brown signed a three-year, $21 million contract extension with the Redskins after leading the team with 127 tackles in 2017, despite missing three games because of an injury.
But he didn’t play nearly as well last year, and the Redskins quickly soured on him and showed him the door rather than deal with his $8.75 million cap number for 2019.
Brown’s relationship with some of the Redskins defensive coaches, including coordinator Greg Manusky, deteriorated during the season. After an ugly 38-14 loss to Atlanta in Week 9, Brown took offense to criticism from the coaching staff on his play in that game.
“Own coaches hating and blaming me for Atlanta loss,’’ he tweeted. “Check the film b4 blaming someone. Eye in the sky doesn’t lie.’’
That was pretty much the beginning of the end for him in Washington.
Brown loves his new home. He’s a big fan of Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz and his rush-four scheme, loves his new teammates, and loves the friendly, relaxed atmosphere in the locker room.
“It’s different here,’’ he said. “It’s a different mentality. Last year wasn’t a good experience for nobody down there. This place is night and day compared to there.
“Everybody’s cool here. Everybody talks to everybody. The offense talks to the defense. This locker room is so different from the one I came from.
“In Washington, there were cliques. Here, I can go over there and mess with the offensive linemen. The running backs are right next to me, so I always give them crap. I give the receivers crap, too. You couldn’t do that there.’’
Brown and fellow linebacker Nigel Bradham have known each other since they were ACC rivals at North Carolina (Brown) and Florida State (Bradham), and were taken 53 picks apart in the 2012 draft. Brown was taken by Tennessee in the second round, and Bradham went to Buffalo in the fourth.
The Eagles "always were a team I wanted to play for,’’ Brown said. “It’s a perfect place to play. They had Nigel here. They had a good, all-around defense. And the offense, with all of the pieces they’ve added, it’s crazy.
"I like Schwartz. Everywhere he’s gone, he’s had a good defense. Even in Buffalo [in 2014], his defense was crazy. And it’s not like he asks a lot of you to do all this crazy stuff, like guard a wide receiver or something like that.’’
The 6-1, 250-pound Brown is one of 10 linebackers on the Eagles’ spring roster. He played inside in the Redskins’ 3-4 alignment the last two seasons and figures to play in the middle as a first- and second-down run-stopper in Schwartz’s base package.
“I’ve got to learn all three [linebacker] spots,’’ Brown said. “Because you never know what position you might have to play. It might be the WILL [weak side] or the MIKE [middle] or the SAM [strong side]. I have to make sure I know the playbook.
“Whatever spot they put me in, I’m going to play it. Whatever they ask me to do, I’m going to go out there and compete every day.’’
Brown is a better run-stopper than coverage guy, but Schwartz isn’t expected to use him much as a cover ‘backer in sub-packages. He got roughed up by Eagles tight end Zach Ertz last year in a 28-13 Redskins loss in Week 13. Ertz had nine catches for 83 yards in that game. But in Brown’s defense, Ertz roughed up a lot of linebackers and safeties last season on his way to an NFL-record 116 receptions.
“He killed me,’’ Brown acknowledged. “There wasn’t much I could do. He was having his way. I didn’t do a very good job of guarding him.’’
Asked about Brown last week, Schwartz said, “He has some flexibility. He’s played a lot of good football. It’s exciting to get him.’’
One person in the Eagles locker room with whom Brown needs to mend fences is offensive tackle Lane Johnson. You might recall the war of words between the two a couple of years ago.
In an article he wrote in The Players’ Tribune, Johnson guaranteed that the Eagles would “whup some ass against the Redskins’’ in the 2017 season opener.
Brown took a pointed shot at Johnson on Twitter, saying, “We don’t need PEDs to win,’’ a reference to Johnson’s two suspensions for using banned substances.
“He was here last week,’’ Brown said. “I was messing around with him. I said, ‘Hey, we need to sit down and have a pow-wow and talk it out.’ It wasn’t anything personal. He’s a good person. But I had to stand up for my boys.’’