Trent Brown New England Patriots
New England Patriots left tackle Trent Brown, center, will need to be at his best this season. (Photo: Getty Images)

Never before has the “next man up” philosophy been so important. A slogan-turned-religion has never carried this much weight. But we’ll soon find out if Trent Brown is up for the task.

If you haven’t been paying attention to the New England Patriots’ offseason, then you might even be asking yourself, “Who the heck is Trent Brown?”

Brown is the Patriots’ new left tackle. The Pats acquired him — along with a 2018 fifth-round pick — in a trade with the San Francisco 49ers during the NFL draft, sending San Fran a 2018 third-round pick.

He’ll replace Nate Solder, who was a Patriots’ first-round pick in 2011. After seven years in New England, Solder signed a four-year, $62 million deal with the New York Giants in the offseason, a contract that the Patriots were never going to match.

 

So Bill Belichick responded by bringing in Brown, who has spent most of his career at right tackle. With Solder gone, Brown is the next man up at left tackle. And he’s the most important “next man up” that the Patriots have arguably ever had.

Why? Because, for the Patriots, time is of the essence. Or shall I say, it’s Tom versus Time. Literally. That’s not just a catchy phrase for Brady’s Facebook video series. It’s real life.

At 41 years old, Brady is actually squaring off against Father Time. And you know who’s dominated that battle. So the guy blocking Brady’s backside — especially now — might have the most important role on the team all season long.

Make no mistake, that left tackle position — and every other offensive line position — is always important, to any quarterback on any team. But Brady can eat healthy and preach pliability all he wants when he takes a blindside hit at age 41, it’s going to hurt a little more than it did the day before.

I’m not telling you that Brady only has one more year left in the tank. But I think it’s only realistic for all of us to acknowledge that the window of dominance with Brady on the throne is getting smaller by the season.

So, win now, while you can, as much as you can. Which also means, protect Brady, while you can, as much as you can, especially from the back side.

The Patriots have dealt with losing players many times before. This isn’t anything new. Like I said, “next man up” is essentially a religion inside Gillette Stadium. But right now, the timing and the position couldn’t be more crucial.

And I’m certainly not going to sit here and tell you all about how good — or bad — Brown is. Because I don’t know. I don’t even think the Patriots know, yet. It’s intriguing and concerning at the same time.

But as the Patriots look to prove once again this season that most players are replaceable, I should remind you that whenever New England has struggled at times during the Brady era, it’s been because of a leaky offensive line.

Remember the whole, “Patriots aren’t good anymore” rant from Trent Dilfer after a Week 4 loss in Kansas City back in 2014? The Patriots lost 41-14 on that Monday night. Brady threw two interceptions and also fumbled twice. He was pressured all game long. New England’s franchise quarterback was actually seeing ghosts.

But it wasn’t because the Patriots “weren’t good anymore,” as we came to find out. It was because the Patriots’ offensive line wasn’t doing its job.

Now, in 2018, it’s Brown’s job that might be most important to the Patriots’ success.

No pressure.

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