If there is one player that has caused more frustration than any other on the Arizona Cardinals fans, it is most likely Levi Brown this season and over the past several seasons. He has been known in most circles of those that follow football as possibly the worst pass blocking tackle in the NFL.
However, on more than one occasion, coach Ken Whisenhunt has defended the player that was his first draft pick. He did it again on Thursday.
"From what you hear or see, people don't think he's lived up to the reputation of where he was drafted. I will speak on this year. He's done the job we drafted him to do. Whatever has happened to get him to this point really doesn't matter. He's playing good football for us now and I respect that."
Is he playing good football now? PFF agrees.
His pass protection has truly improved. According to PFF stats, he has not allowed a sack in five weeks. He has not allowed a QB hit in that time and only seven pressures. Based on the number of pass plays in that period, that equates a paltry 3.4 percent pressure allowed rate.
Since he started roughly, his overall numbers are 10 sacks allowed, five hits and 39 pressures, which is an 8.9 percent pressure allowed rate. That is a big improvement from a year ago in his first year as left tackle. In 2010, his pressure allowed rate was 10.9 percent.
Now, we know about his contract status. He is due a huge jump in salary next season -- a $16.9 million cap hit. But that was a year that was never going to happen, based on rookie contracts. He will not see that money.
However, if they let him go, there is a lot of uncertainty at the tackle position. If he is released (which will happen) and not brought back, only Jeremy Bridges will be under contract and the team will have the rights to undrafted rookie D.J. Young. Brandon Keith and backup D'Anthony Batiste will be free agents.
While many, including Arizona Republic writer Kent Somers, believe that in the end Brown will be let go and not re-signed, would bringing him back at a lower salary (he's not getting $16.9 million anywhere) be such a bad thing?
He could go back to right tackle, where he was a Pro Bowl alternate in 2009. Now, as much as it pains Cardinals fans, considering the improvement he has made between the start of last season and the end of this season, is it not reasonable to think his improvement could and would continue, and if so, would his returning to play left tackle be that bad?
After all, he does love it here.
"I'm just going to let it play out and what happens, happens. I would love to be here for the remainder of my career. I love the organization. But if I'm not, that's just how the cards played out."
He understands the business of football. He is a smart man, probably smarter than most of us that are reading this. After all, he did earn two degrees at Penn State while playing football (not an easy task, and not easy degrees -- Labor and Industrial Studies and Psychology) and worked on a master's degree during the lockout while players like Lyle Sendlein were focused on video games.
So, what should Arizona do?
The easy answer is to say goodbye and not feel bad, but it is more complicated than that.
Can they bring in someone who will do a better job, having to learn the offense, calls and protection schemes? After all, the guy he replaced at left tackle was Mike Gandy. Gandy was blocking for Kurt Warner, who made his line look so much better because he was able to read defenses and make quick throws. Brown has been blocking for guys that have struggled with throws and decisions. Gandy's pressure rates? 8.3 percent in 2008 and 9.3 percent in 2009.
Goodbye, RT or LT (lower salary in any returning case)...what do you think the Cards should do?