The New Orleans Saints knew what they were getting in Brandon Browner.
Browner was signed to shore up one cornerback position and provide a physical, aggressive nature that was lacking in the Saints secondary.
But they were also getting a player who has led the NFL in penalties twice. And nine games into the first season of a three-year deal, Browner has been flagged 17 times, the most in the NFL and more than any other Saint going back to the 1999 season.
“This is not new to me,” Browner said. “I’ve been dealing with this the past couple of seasons. I try not to get on the refs, because they’ve got a job to do, but I do feel like sometimes it’s inconsistent, just watching football across the league. Some of the stuff that I get called for, other guys don’t get called for.”
Browner has been flagged for defensive holding nine times, pass interference three times, two face masks, offside, an illegal contact and an unnecessary roughness penalty, leaving him two short of the career-high 19 penalties he incurred in 2011 with the Seattle Seahawks.
Fourteen of Browner’s 15 accepted penalties have resulted in first downs, extending drives for a defense that ranks 31st in the league and can’t afford to stay on the field.
“It happens,” Browner said. “It’s part of the game, but it sucks when you lose and those plays affect the outcome of the game.”
Browner, for all his reputation, says he’s trying to limit the penalties, and his coaches have backed him up on that count.
“He is the most physical corner in football, and that’s no question,” defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said. “Unfortunately, he does have more penalties than most, but believe me, no one is working harder on eliminating those penalties than Brandon Browner is.”
The New Orleans corners routinely work with boxing gloves in practice – a teaching method that has helped Browner’s bookend, Delvin Breaux, commit just two penalties in the past five weeks after a four-penalty game in the season-opener – and Browner has tried to acclimate to the NFL’s rules on physicality in coverage.
Breaux has also turned his penalty problem around by remaining in constant communication with the referees, something Browner said he tries to do, too.
“I do it all the time,” Browner said. “I try to talk to them. You want to be approachable to the guys that are calling the game. Most of time, they do a good job.”
New Orleans also needs to keep Browner in specialized situations. Forced to play outside cornerback in the base defense for much of the season because of Keenan Lewis’s injury, Browner has spent only some of the time matching up against the big-bodied receivers and tight ends he’s best-suited to cover.
Browner, the prize free-agent signing for the Saints defense, hasn’t paid the dividends so far that Saints fans were hoping for from the new cornerback. Frustrated by the loss to the Titans on Sunday, Browner erupted in a profanity-laced outburst at a reporter, a tirade for which he later apologized.
But the veteran cornerback, who doubles as a team leader, said he does not believe the outburst, or his problems with penalties, undermine his position in the locker room.
“I don’t think that has anything to do with my leadership,” Browner said. “That’s just being emotional at that time. We’re human beings. You get emotional at things, it’s just they don’t have a camera in your face when those things are happening. Happens to spill out, and people see it. I can deal with it. It is what it is. It comes with the territory.”
Despite the ups and downs of Browner’s season, Saints coach Sean Payton has stuck by the cornerback, saying Monday that he’d keep any potential discipline for Browner’s Sunday outburst in-house.
“He is an asset to the team,” Payton said. “Absolutely.”
Now, the Saints need to figure out how to maximize what Browner’s capable of providing and minimize the flags that have plagued him to this point.