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Levi Brown paid for the Arizona Cardinals’ mistake

“I think when you look back at some of these high-round draft picks, they’re under a microscope and the bull’s eye is on their chest from day one,” Arizona Cardinals General Manager Steve Keim said when asked if the pressure of being selected where he was — and ahead of who he was — may have negatively impacted Levi Brown. “And when you don’t live up to expectations from day one, that’s a tough pill to carry.”

Since Brown was selected by the Arizona Cardinals with fifth pick in the 2007 NFL Draft, the offensive lineman has been many things.

A right tackle and a left tackle. A penalty machine and a reliable presence. A turnstile and a wall. A promising player and a whipping boy.

But one thing he has never been — and was never going to be — is Adrian Peterson.

Many people (including myself) wanted the Cardinals to take the Oklahoma running back that season, and when they passed on the star in favor of the Penn State tackle, there was a fair amount of disgust.

Including, apparently, inside the Cardinals’ own war room.

But the pick was made, and from that moment on, Brown was facing an uphill battle to win over Cardinals fans. Every false start, holding penalty and sack allowed was another reminder of the team’s mistake. And, seeing Peterson become one of the all-time great running backs while carrying the mediocre Vikings teams to the postseason was just another twist of the knife in their backs.

Nothing short of great was ever going to be good enough, and in no way was Brown great.

We too often heard things like “false start, number 75” and too often saw an Arizona quarterback lying on the ground because the left tackle failed to hold a defender at bay. When Brown struggled, he really struggled, such as Week 1 this season when St. Louis’ Robert Quinn tallied three sacks.

Speed rushers had their way with Brown, and that was a problem.

However, Brown was not nearly as bad as his reputation would have one believe.

Brown was a Pro Bowl alternate in 2009 (at right tackle), and his last full season, which came in 2011, saw him grade out as one of the best left tackles in the NFL over the team’s final eight games. It’s likely the reason why the team decided to sign him to a five-year contract in March 2012.

That’s not to say the Cardinals made a mistake in trading the 29-year-old.

Keim noted that Brown was not living up to the expectations they had for him this season, and at some point decided he was no longer part of the team’s future. That makes sense. If you’re not part of the solution, you may be closer to being a problem. Brown no longer appeared to be part of the solution.

The organization had reached a point where it believed having Brown on the roster was such a detriment that it had to move him no matter the return, and a deal was made. Some believe the team was ready to cut Brown if a trade didn’t materialize, though we’ll never know if that was a viable option.

As it is, both Keim and head coach Bruce Arians see this move as a way to possibly improve at left tackle with the insertion of Bradley Sowell into the lineup. Who knows, they may be right. Though the 24-year-old went undrafted out of Ole Miss a couple years ago and has little in the way of a track record, NFL history is littered with players who have come out of nowhere to do well — kind of the opposite of Brown, actually.

“When you look at that draft,” Keim continued about 2007, “and you see not only Adrian Peterson, but Patrick Willis I think was the 11th pick that year, and several more great players that came out of that first round.

“That’s what we talk to our young scouts about in the evaluation process, to learn from these things and grow and look back and judge yourself — why you missed, where you missed and how you can grow and get better.”

Levi Brown was a poor choice at number five in the draft. He was inconsistent and occasionally really bad.

But when it comes to remembering Ken Whisenhunt’s first draft pick as the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals, it’s who he was not that will ultimately be what people remember most.