Former CFL defensive back was running out of money when he finally got a call from the Seahawks. He's made the most of his NFL opportunity.
RENTON — Brandon Browner’s eyes were never too far from the NFL.
He spent four years playing in the Canadian Football League, practicing outdoors in temperatures so cold your nose didn’t drip so much as freeze. To say Browner never stopped looking across the border was much more than a metaphor.
“I kept my room TV on the NFL Network,” he said. “Throughout the whole time I was in the CFL. It never left the NFL Network unless I was playing a video game. That was a must-have.”
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That long-distance relationship is what makes this season, and Browner’s selection as a Pro Bowl alternate, one of the most unlikely, endearing stories not just on the Seahawks, but in the entire league.
“Brandon just comes out of nowhere,” coach Pete Carroll said.
Well, it was Calgary, actually. He played four years for the Stampeders before he was signed by the Seahawks last January, his first NFL contract since Denver in 2006.
He has intercepted six passes, the most by a Seahawk in four years and tied for fourth most in the league. Five came during a stretch in which he became the first Seattle player in 20 years to intercept at least one pass in four consecutive games.
Scoff at the Pro Bowl if you want. Call it the most meaningless of all the all-star games. Just know how important it is for Browner, whose inclusion as an alternate ahead of someone like Philadelphia’s Nnamdi Asomugha shows the respect he has earned around the NFL. As a first alternate, Browner will end up playing in the game if one of the selected players pulls out because of injury or is unavailable because his team made the Super Bowl.
“I’m grateful that my peers and coaches recognized what I was doing,” Browner said.
The 27-year-old, who stands 6 feet 4, is in his first NFL year, but he’s no rookie. He left Oregon State early in 2005, forsaking two years of remaining eligibility only to go undrafted. He signed with Denver, but a broken forearm landed him on injured reserve. He didn’t make it out of training camp the next year, and went to Canada in 2007.
He had tried out all over the NFL, but for four years no one gave him a chance at training camp. And when the Seahawks did sign him in January, he then had to wait through the longest work stoppage in NFL history.
“Money was getting low,” Browner said. “I was stressed out. I had my family depending on me. They didn’t know if I was telling the truth or not. Did I really get signed to this team? It was real tough.”
Browner has a fiancee and two sons, the youngest of whom is 1. Browner went more than six months without a paycheck this year, waiting for the lockout to get his chance to make the Seahawks.
“I was loooow,” he said. “I was down to my last. I really needed this.”
“This” turned out to be a $375,000 salary, the first-year minimum.
Browner did more than make the Seahawks’ 53-man roster. He played so well the Seahawks named him the starting right cornerback, trading away veteran Kelly Jennings who had been re-signed.
Arriving in the NFL is one thing; staying there is something else. In Browner’s second game, he found himself in Pittsburgh, where the Steelers threw at him. Repeatedly. He was beaten for a touchdown by the Steelers’ Mike Wallace for a third-quarter touchdown.
“I felt like I had a bad game in Pitt,” Browner said. “People would think I’m out here just giving it all up, but that’s part of being a defensive back. You’ve got to have a short memory.”
No one thinks that now. Browner may lead the league in penalties with 18, but he’s also part of a secondary that is one of the most improved units on the team. Seattle is allowing 32 passing yards fewer than it did a year ago, the fifth biggest improvement in the NFL.
He has proved that he belongs in the league that he never stopped watching.
Danny O’Neil: 206-464-2364 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @dannyoneil.