Big Levi Brown could have been the X-factor who helped the woebegone Arizona Cardinals become postseason contenders for years on end.
The Cardinals passed up future Pro Bowlers Adrian Peterson, Marshawn Lynch, Patrick Willis, and Darrelle Revis and made Levi Brown the fifth overall selection of the 2007 NFL Draft.
Instead of becoming a perennial Pro Bowler, Brown was often mentioned along with Matt Leinart, Andre Wadsworth, Tommie Knight, and Jonathan Cooper – some of the biggest busts in Arizona Cardinals franchise history.
Levi Brown’s questionable pass-protection skills exposed him in the pro football ranks.
Pundits often compared Brown to a turnstile who allowed sacks to edge rushers with reckless abandon.
By the time Brown retired from the NFL after the 2013 NFL season, he had surrendered 55.0 sacks and 302 quarterback pressures. Not only that, but he also racked up 37 penalties in his disappointing seven-year NFL career.
There’s no question Levi Brown remains one of the biggest what-ifs in Arizona Cardinals team history.
Levi James Brown III was born in Jacksonville, NC on March 16, 1984.
Brown always had an eagerness to learn new things dating back to his formative years in Virginia.
Levi Brown attended Granby High School in Norfolk, VA. When young Levi was in the eighth grade, he filled out an application form for the school’s intense International Baccalaureate Diploma Program, per The Virginian-Pilot’s Ed Miller.
His parents had no idea what the program was all about. They only knew one thing – it required rigorous study late into the night.
Dianna Brown saw her son poring over various documents in the wee hours of the morning one day. She told him he did not have to pursue the program anymore.
“Mom, I’ve started it,” Brown told his mother (via The Virginian-Pilot). “I want to finish it.”
Brown excelled in basketball and football for the Granby Comets. He played offensive linemen and defensive end for Comets head football coach Dave Hudak.
Hudak told Miller in the spring of 2007 that he never remembered Brown skipping a workout in high school.
— NorfolkPublicSchools (@NPSchools) January 11, 2016
Brown gave Hudak the impression he knew his priorities at a young age. Because of that, Hudak felt Brown wouldn’t experience many issues in college.
With Brown dominating on both sides of the ball, the Comets went 8-2 in his senior season in 2001. Brown promptly earned All-State honors following his memorable senior campaign.
Brown’s parents told him and his sister Brionna to prioritize getting a college education, so they can earn more and live a better life when they make it to the real world.
That’s exactly what Levi Brown did in high school.
As Brown’s high school days wound down, he told PSU.edu’s Tony Mancuso that he had two goals: he wanted to become the first from his family to earn a college degree and become a defensive lineman in college.
Brown approached Hudak for advice. The latter was a fan of Penn State Nittany Lions head coach Joe Paterno’s commitment to football and academics.
Brown, the 32nd-ranked high school defensive tackle in the nation, became a highly-touted recruit. Penn State easily made his shortlist.
Brown didn’t have much trouble making his final decision. For him, committing to the Nittany Lions was a no-brainer.
“It was a place where academic integrity and football could be put into one,” Brown told Mancuso. “I felt this was a place I needed to be. The stars aligned and everything worked out.”
Levi Brown eventually evolved into one of the best offensive linemen in college football during his days at PSU.
College Days with the Penn State Nittany Lions
Levi Brown attended Penn State University from 2002 to 2006. He earned two bachelor’s degrees: one in labor and industrial relations and another one in psychology.
Although Brown solidified his educational background at PSU, it wasn’t an easy path by any stretch.
Brown had to redshirt his true freshman season in 2002 because he was academically ineligible to suit up for the Nittany Lions, per PSU.edu.
Consequently, Brown reached out to Penn State’s academic support staff to help keep his grades up.
“Having the academic staff in my corner really helped me turn things around that first year. And I just grew from there,” Brown told Penn State’s official website.
Once Levi Brown cleared his academic hurdle, he took the field for his redshirt freshman campaign in 2003.
Nittany Lions head football coach Joe Paterno felt Brown was more effective as an offensive lineman – the exact opposite of Brown’s aspirations to excel on the defensive line in college.
Brown initially resisted Paterno’s plan but eventually relented. Brown went on to start 45 of the Nittany Lions’ next 48 games on the offensive line.
— Sean Cascarano (@SeanCascarano) April 27, 2017
Levi Brown enjoyed the most success in his last two years at Penn State from 2005 to 2006.
With Brown anchoring PSU’s offensive line, the Nittany Lions won eleven of twelve games and clinched the Big Ten title in the 2005 NCAA season.
Brown and Co. went on to defeat the Florida State Seminoles in the 2005 Orange Bowl, 26-23.
Penn State won nine games in Brown’s redshirt senior season in 2006. The Nittany Lions won their second consecutive bowl game by beating the Tennessee Volunteers in the 2006 Outback Bowl, 20-10.
Brown ended his college football career on a high note. He helped Penn State win 20 of 25 games from 2005 to 2006. He also earned two All-Big Ten selections during that two-year time frame.
After Brown earned his second bachelor’s degree in the winter of 2006, he began working toward a master’s degree in human resources and employment relations at PSU.
Not only did Joe Paterno make a profound impact on Levi Brown’s football career, but he also made an impact on his long-term future.
Brown told PSU.edu that Paterno kept things in perspective – he told his players football is just a game. They had to keep their eyes on the bigger picture. Getting an education would help them become productive members of society for many years.
Levi Brown didn’t just get a solid education at Penn State. He also met his future wife, Lynette, during their college days.
Pro Football Career
The Arizona Cardinals made Levi Brown the fifth overall selection of the 2007 NFL Draft. It was the highest selection of a former Penn State Nittany Lions player since 1992, per PSU.edu.
The Green Bay Packers drafted former PSU linebacker Mark D’Onofrio 34th overall that year.
Brown felt his regular scrimmages with Nittany Lions teammate Tamba Hali, an eventual six-time Pro Bowl lineman with the Kansas City Chiefs, helped him become of the most highly-touted offensive linemen in the 2007 NFL Draft.
Hali promptly sung Brown’s praises in the aftermath of the draft festivities.
“Off the field, Levi’s kind of laid-back for a big offensive lineman,” Hali told The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Frank Fitzpatrick on April 26, 2007. “But on it, he’s a very, very tough opponent. He’s big. He’s athletic. And he’s smart.”
Regrettably, Hali’s on-field assessment of Brown never came true in the National Football League.
The Cardinals, who had struggled mightily for years since winning the NFL Championship in 1947, were dead set on signing Brown. They even passed up on future Pro Bowlers Marshawn Lynch, Adrian Peterson, Patrick Willis, and Darrelle Revis in the draft.
It turned out Cardinals personnel director Steve Keim wanted Peterson in the worst possible way, per NFL.com insider Michael Silver (via ArizonaSports.com).
However, Arizona general manager Rod Graves and first-year head coach Ken Whisenhunt had other plans. They wanted Levi Brown from the get-go.
Rod Graves and Ken Whisenhunt wanted a tackle (Brown) & the team had signed Edgerrin James a year earlier. Keim wanted Peterson in worst way
— Michael Silver (@MikeSilver) October 2, 2013
Keim had to keep his emotions in check in the war room after NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced Brown as the Cardinals’ selection.
Brown had to put his master’s degree in human relations and employment relations on the back burner after the Cardinals drafted him. He resumed working toward the degree some four years later.
Levi Brown signed a six-year deal with the Cardinals worth up to $62 million. It also included $18 million in guaranteed money.
While Brown was an above-average run blocker during his college days at Penn State, questions arose about his pass protection skills when he entered the pro football ranks in 2007.
Brown started eleven of thirteen games in his rookie season. Unfortunately, he allowed a total of 8.0 sacks as Arizona went 8-8 in Ken Whisenhunt’s first year as Cardinals head coach.
Since the team renamed itself the “Arizona Cardinals” in 1994, they had missed the postseason thirteen times in the past fourteen years.
Despite Brown’s disappointing rookie campaign, Whisenhunt firmly entrenched him as the Cardinals’ starting right tackle for the next four seasons.
Brown didn’t fare any better in his second NFL season in 2008. He allowed 11.0 sacks in his sixteen starts.
Although the Cardinals were only just a tad better than the previous season, their 9-7 win-loss record was enough to end their nine-year postseason drought.
The underdog Cardinals played with a sense of urgency in the postseason. With Super Bowl XXXIV MVP Kurt Warner under center, Arizona beat the Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, and Philadelphia Eagles by an average of eleven points through the first three playoff rounds.
That set up a date with Ben Roethlisberger’s Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII.
Alas, the Cardinals’ valiant fourth-quarter comeback attempt fell just short. The Steelers earned their sixth Vince Lombardi Trophy after beating Arizona, 27-23.
— Kirk Erickson (@CaptainKirkAZ) September 9, 2013
Unfortunately, Levi Brown’s performance never improved in subsequent seasons. He allowed a combined 19.0 sacks from 2009 to 2010.
Arizona won an average of eight games per year during those two years. The Cardinals never made it past the NFC Divisional Round.
Brown became the Arizona Cardinals’ player representative during the 2011 NFL lockout. Brown and his fellow player reps lobbied hard with congress for a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) in Washington, D.C.
Looking back, Brown told NFLPA.com that securing the new CBA was his proudest accomplishment during his time as the Cardinals’ player rep. He felt they finalized an agreement that benefited everybody involved.
Brown felt his experience as a player rep helped him witness the NFL’s operations from a business standpoint. He gained more insight into the strategies the owners and players used during the negotiation process.
Ultimately, he developed a deeper perspective on how the process affects the owners, players, and fans.
Sometime that year, Brown picked up where he left off on his unfinished master’s degree.
With the help of the league’s tuition reimbursement program, he enrolled in one master’s course each offseason. He also became a law firm intern while he was finishing his master’s degree, per PSU.edu.
Brown was thankful for the NFL’s helping hand. He was aware an injury could have ended his career and prevented him from wrapping up his master’s degree. Fortunately, the league intervened at the perfect time.
The Arizona Cardinals released Levi Brown on March 12, 2012. However, they re-signed him three days later.
Regrettably, Brown sustained a torn triceps injury during the preseason. The Cardinals placed him on season-ending injured reserve.
Without Brown, Arizona won just five games in 2012. They also missed the postseason for the third straight year.
Brown had another shot at redemption after sitting out the entire 2012 NFL campaign. Unfortunately, he blew it.
Brown’s pitiful performance against the St. Louis Rams at the beginning of the 2013 NFL season sealed his fate with Arizona.
Brown, who played left tackle, gave up 3.0 sacks to St. Louis defensive end Robert Quinn in the season opener on September 8, 2013.
Two of those sacks made Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer fumble the football. Arizona lost, 27-24.
“It seemed whenever there was a critical play in the game, it was Levi getting beat,” former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback and ESPN NFL analyst Ron Jaworski told Arizona Sports 620’s Burns and Gambo (via ArizonaSports.com) on September 13, 2013. “I don’t think it’s fixable right now, I really don’t.”
10/2/13 – Four games into the regular season, the Arizona Cardinals traded OT Levi Brown (selected 5th overall in 2007; 81 games, 79 starts) for a conditional draft pick that would never be conveyed. Brown would appear in one game for PITT and never play again. #BirdCityFootball pic.twitter.com/fpP8TjYrWS
— Arizona Sports History (@AZSportsHistory) October 2, 2022
The Cardinals promptly traded Levi Brown to the Pittsburgh Steelers for a conditional draft selection on October 2, 2013.
Brown played for the Steelers until the end of the season. They eventually waived him on March 5, 2014.
With Brown in tow, Pittsburgh went 8-8 and missed the postseason for the second straight year.
Levi Brown retired from pro football following the 2013 NFL season.
TOUCHDOWNWIRE’s Doug Farrar rated Brown the biggest bust in Arizona Cardinals franchise history.
According to Farrar, Brown allowed 55.0 sacks and 302 quarterback pressures during his underwhelming seven-year NFL career. He also amassed 37 penalties which hindered his efficiency on the Cardinals’ offensive line from 2007 to 2013.
Levi Brown, his wife Lynette, and their four children currently reside in the Austin, TX area.
Brown told the NFL Players Association’s (NFLPA) official website that his transition from his playing days to retirement wasn’t smooth.
When Brown retired from the NFL in 2014, his wife was pregnant with twins. He was also unsure which path in life he wanted to take.
Although Brown was done playing on the gridiron, he still struggled with the thought that he was still a football player. For him, football was his identity and not his profession.
After a lot of soul searching, Levi Brown discovered the industry he was truly passionate about – the financial services sector.
— Levi Brown (@LeviBrown75) May 11, 2019
Brown is currently working as a wealth coach for Surevest Wealth Management. The company supplies asset management and planning services to people with a high net worth. Its clientele includes entrepreneurs, corporate managers, and lottery winners.
Brown also has two master’s degrees: one in human resources and employment relations and another one in financial psychology.
Brown wants to help athletes manage and invest their finances wisely, so they can live comfortably well into their retirement years.
“My goal now is (to) help other athletes avoid those financial pitfalls that many face throughout their careers and in their retirement,” Brown told NFLPA.com.