ASHBURN — Zach Brown had a priority heading into the offseason: spend more time with his family.
The Redskins linebacker has four daughters, ages 10, 7, 4 and 3, but football usually took up most of his schedule. So, Brown made a choice — he skipped all but one of the team’s voluntary workouts. Instead, he took his kids to the zoo, the beach and even Disney World. Brown had the time to attend his oldest’s track meets.
“It makes me a better person,” he said.
Brown, though, still has a job to do. He made his return Tuesday for the start of the Redskins’ mandatory minicamp.
After signing a new contract in April, the 28-year-old decided it was time to put down some roots, buying a home in Northern Virginia.
Last season, Brown was one of the league’s best bargains, leading the Redskins in tackles while on a one-year, $2 million deal. He made an impact with his speed, an element lacking on some past Redskins defenses.
The team rewarded Brown with his first multi-year deal since his rookie contract expired in 2015.
“I finally have a place that I can call home,” Brown said. “From Tennessee to Buffalo to down here, I can call this home now. For me, it’s great.”
Of course, NFL contracts come with a list of caveats. While Brown’s salary appears to be in line for his position, he needs to hit incentives to earn $24 million for three years. He carries just a $2.9 million cap hit in 2018.
And if Brown underperforms, the Redskins have an easy opt out after one year, with “only” $3 million in dead weight.
The Redskins, however, expect Brown to perform like he did in 2017, or take a step forward. Coach Jay Gruden said Brown is “gifted as a linebacker as there is.” Brown finished with 127 tackles in 13 games last season.
“I think him being in his second year with his athletic ability, adding Daron Payne and Jonathan Allen in the middle in front of him with Matt Ioannidis and Ziggy [Hood] … it’s going to make him all more the more freer to roam and play fast,” Gruden said.
Brown’s improved health should help. For the last half of the season, the linebacker dealt with an assortment of lower body injuries, mainly to his Achilles. He missed the last three games of the season.
Brown said he now feels “100 percent.”
When healthy, Brown and fellow starter Mason Foster were two heavy hitters, and the Redskins defense suffered with both out. Foster, who also re-signed with Washington in the offseason, missed 11 games.
Brown said the next step for the Redskins’ defense is to become a “top five, top 10” group. The Redskins were 11th in defensive DVOA, a metric that measures efficiency.
But, using more conventional stats, the Redskins ranked 27th in points allowed.
“Every play, we’ve got to look dominant,” Brown said. “There are some plays where you’re not going to dominate, but we’ve got to dominate most of the game. We’re just looking for the chance at perfection.”