Here's three reasons we shouldn't get too excited about this trade:
1) Brown missed all of last season after undergoing two surgeries - one on his hip and another for a sports hernia. Of course he had to pass a physical for the trade to be official, but you can never fully dismiss injury history.
2) Jermon Bushrod, the man who took over the Saints LT job when Brown went down, is frankly pretty bad and would have been exposed with a less gifted quarterback behind him. And yet the Saints seemed quite content to let Bushrod keep the job and allow Brown to grow increasingly disgruntled and then trade him. This point is mitigated by two factors: First, Drew Brees obviously is so good that he can overcome poor tackle play, so Saints are one of the rare teams that can afford to not prioritize the LT position. Second, Brown is due for a contract extension (he has reached restricted free agency) and the Saints just sunk their O-line budget into a big contract guard Jahri Evans. Nonetheless, if the Saints thought they would be that much better off with Brown instead of Bushrod I figure they would have found a way to make it work.
3) The Saints aren't the only ones who seem underwhelmed by Brown's ability. I pulled up Brown's 2008 ratings (his last healthy season) from Pro Football Focus. Like many I have some doubts about PFF's methodology, so I don't take their ratings as a final verdict. However, they are certainly an informed opinion put forward by charters who watch the game in great detail, so they deserve some weight even if they are not conclusive. Brown was given a pretty disconcerting -9 for the season. Even if you toss out the -7.1 in week 13, which is a clear outlier, he is still rated below average. And yes I know he's made two Pro Bowls, one of them for this poorly-rated '08 season. But if you watch football at all I'm sure you are aware that the Pro Bowl selection process is almost as big a joke as the game itself, so I'm not inclined to let that influence my opinion very much.
But not to worry, those are balance by some good reasons to love the move:
1) Even if Brown is only adequate, he still significantly upgrades the Redskins offensive line. I had little faith in Artis Hicks as a right tackle - if you can play tackle well you generally don't end up spending your career bouncing around between guard spots. And the fact that Hicks had gotten that job so easily tells you all you need to know about the coaches' confidence in Stephon Heyer. Heyer is now one injury farther away from the field, which sure helps me breath easier.
2) Right tackle isn't the only position that Brown upgrades. By bumping Hicks over to right guard, we also get to see less of Mike Williams - regular readers will know that that would make me happy. The Redskins want to emphasize quickness and movement on their line, and Mike Williams is clearly not a good fit for that.
3) Brown could also end up saving the left tackle spot. If, God forbid, Trent Williams were to go down, we would previously have been looking at a Hicks/Heyer tackle combo. That is pretty much an apocalyptic scenario. Now we could slide Brown over to the blind side while Hicks mans RT. It's comforting to me to be in a better position to recover from one key injury.
4) Jammal Brown may be a good fit for Shanahan's system. For this I will rely on Doug Williams, who has spent the last few years working in the front office a Saints division rival (Tampa) and is therefore pretty familiar with him. Willlams is quoted at length by John Keim of Redskins Confidential:
“Jammal was a solid left tackle... He wasn’t a dominator. But he was an athletic guy. He’s solid. He went to the Pro Bowl. It gives the Redskins a guy with experience and it’s a system he’s played in. He should do well because he’s the athletic type lineman that Mike Shanahan likes.
Jammal is not a mauler, but he’s athletic enough to do what they’ll ask him to do: moving on the run and getting to the next level. He certainly can do that."
“He’s not overpowering, but he has good feet,” Williams said. “He uses his hands well and he can get to the second level. When you have a big guy that size who can use his feet and move his hands and get to the second level, that’s very important. If you ask him to be a powerful head-up run blocker, that won’t be his thing. But for what they do, he’ll fit in very well … . And when you have any kind of athletic tackles, the guards go along for the ride a lot of times.”
All in all, their is little doubt that this trade has made the Redskins a better team. But I think there is reason to limit ourselves to cautious optimism.