A.J. Brown closes his eyes.
The talented wide receiver is experiencing a rush of emotions after hanging up the phone. There’s a mix of anger, shock, and excitement. But the overlying emotion … confusion. After discovering he was about to be traded away from the Tennessee Titans, Brown thought to himself: “Why?”
“I wasn’t too fond of it at the moment,” he says now.
On the morning of April 28, Brown receives a call from his agent, Tory Dandy, who informs him of the news. Brown isn’t aware of the exact details, he just knows there is a chance he’d be heading to Philadelphia to join the Eagles and longtime friend Jalen Hurts.
After taking a few moments to process it all, Brown opens his eyes. He’s trying to clear his mind, but there’s adrenaline jolting through his body. He attempts to find peace by retreating to his sanctuary.
“I wanted to work out,” Brown says now. “I had a really good workout. I had a lot of things on my mind. I thought, ‘If they’re going to trade me, it’s going to be one of the biggest mistakes they’re ever going to make.’ That was my mindset the entire workout.”
For two hours, Brown removed himself from the outside world. Training near one of his offseason residences in South Florida, he hit the football field with trainer Tevin Allen, a wide receiver/defensive back guru and founder of Gold Feet Global. This workout session focused on route discipline and agility drills.
“Let’s be legendary, fam,” Allen recalled of his message that day to Brown.
In a draft night trade, the Eagles sent the Nos. 18 and 101 overall picks to the Titans to acquire Brown. With the looming deal hovering in his mind, Brown aggressively went to work. He worked diligently on getting out of his breaks and accelerating to the next level. After several reps, he rechanneled his energy, and looked ahead to his future with the Eagles.
“To be honest, that’s been driving me — it’s not the only thing — but it definitely plays a part in it,” he says. “That workout with TA was very vocal. It was very detailed. There was also the positive side of it, too. I definitely worked so hard to get to that moment. It wasn’t just trying to prove something.
“It was also reminding myself, ‘You’re here for a reason.’”
Brown arrived on the first day of training camp sporting a hat with the phrase “HURTS SZN” inscribed across the center.
Back when the two players were still in high school and part of the 2016 recruiting cycle, Hurts tried persuading Brown to join him at Alabama. Brown chose Ole Miss instead, but he maintained his friendship with Hurts throughout college, and their bond carried over into their professional careers.
“Jalen’s really solid,” Brown said earlier this week. “He’s a really good guy. We share the same morals, same interests. As the time went, we stayed in touch and communicated. It kept growing. He was there for me and I was there for him during some pretty tough times. We look out for each other. With us, it’s bigger than football. It’s family. That’s my brother.”
When the Eagles traded for Brown and signed him to a subsequent contract extension worth $100 million over four years with $57 million guaranteed, they were confident they were acquiring a “franchise-altering” player, as described by right tackle Lane Johnson. That Hurts is still playing on his rookie deal had a role in the Eagles’ pursuit of Brown, along with a handful of other offseason additions.
“With all these players, [the] contract is a big issue,” general manager Howie Roseman said. “When you have a young quarterback like we do, you can be a little bit more aggressive with contracts than maybe you can when you’re paying a quarterback.
“We are always going to be aggressive and we are always going to take shots on guys that we believe in, and we believe in A.J. Brown.”
Brown provides Hurts with another dynamic pass catcher. He joins last year’s top pick and former Heisman Trophy winner, DeVonta Smith, and tight end Dallas Goedert, with the trio of players expected to handle a majority of the targets from Hurts. Brown and Smith each averaged about 14 yards per catch last season, while Goedert has climbed to top-tier status at his position.
“He’s always been an excellent player since I’ve known him [before] college,” Hurts said of Brown. “He’s always had the ability to make plays with the ball in his hand, use his body, box out defenders, break tackles. He’s a great addition to a great receiver room we have now, and I’m excited.”
It was early in training camp when the chemistry between Brown and Hurts became evident. Hurts favored his new receiver, often throwing to him during seven-on-sevens and full-team workouts. Brown is expected to help Hurts, specifically in routes across the middle of the field and with his ability to pick up yards after the catch.
Safety Marcus Epps has benefited from an up-close look at the 6-foot-1, 226-pound receiver: “He’s just a playmaker, man. He’s a dawg. Big, physical receiver. He goes after the ball and runs good routes. He just has that mindset, ‘After I catch the ball, nobody is going to tackle me.’”
Since he was selected in the second round of the 2019 draft, Brown is third in the NFL with catches of 40-plus yards (16), behind only Mike Williams and Stefon Diggs. After Brown hauls in the football, he puts his blinders on, turns upfield, and churns his legs. Over three seasons, he has recorded 185 catches, 2,995 receiving yards, 24 touchdowns — and 23 broken tackles.
“I’m trying to score touchdowns every time I get the ball,” Brown said. “Whenever I get the ball, my mindset is run. That’s it — run. Because whenever a guy stops his feel, I got him.”
Respect for all
When Brown steps onto the turf this Sunday for the season opener against the Lions in Detroit, he plans on proudly wearing his daughter’s initials, “JB.”
The letters “JB” — representing his 2-year-old daughter, Jersee Brown — are affixed on a large diamond pendant that is attached to his favorite silver chain.
“My girl is my everything in the world,” Brown said. “She’s everything in my life. It’s a feeling like no other.”
Fatherhood has brought tremendous joy to Brown, who credits his parents, Arthur and Josette, for their guidance. While growing up in Starkville, Miss., Brown learned how to cherish and respect others at an early age. Now 25, Brown has developed his reputation for being extremely polished and mature under the public lens. He’s also grateful for Hurts, who is Jersee’s godfather.
“I try to earn respect by giving respect to all people,” Brown said. “Those are my focal points each and every day I wake up. I know it sounds so cliche, but legit, that’s just who I am. I try to be a better man for my family.”
Brown flashes his wide smile on a daily basis and insists he leads by example. Behind closed doors and inside the locker room, he’s a vocal leader. During the last week of training camp, Brown held a players-only meeting and preached accountability, one of coach Nick Sirianni’s five core values.
“I wouldn’t say a word if I wasn’t doing the right thing,” the 2020 Pro Bowl receiver said. “You hold your best players accountable. It’s a standard. I feel like I’m one of the best players here.”
Brown is laser-focused on the start of the regular season. He wants to push the Eagles further into the playoffs. He wants to prove he belongs among the NFL’s top receivers. Unselfishly, he wants to show Philadelphia and the rest of the league that Hurts is the guy under center.
But at the time of his interview, Brown was feeling a bit anxious. At any moment, he’s expecting the birth of his second child, a boy.
“I’m kind of on edge about that. Hopefully he comes when we get back from Detroit.”
Brown plans to purchase more jewelry to honor his second child. For now, though, he plans on providing for his entire family by the only way he knows.
“There’s a reason why I move the way I move, and how I handle my business,” Brown said. “I want to provide for them. She lights up the room like every kid does. But she’s absolutely my everything. I want to give them a good life. I know I can’t take away problems from them, but if I can make their life a little easier, not just by spoiling them, but I’m going to do as much as I can.”
‘Ready to go to war with him’
It was the FaceTime call heard around Eagles nation.
“Let’s do it, man,” Brown said with a smirk while speaking to Hurts.
There were a pair of phone calls that sparked a complete contrast of emotions for Brown: The first call in the morning from Dandy informing Brown he was going to be traded. The second call in the evening from Hurts, one of his closest friends, who was helping usher him into the next stage of his career.
“As an offense, we’ve built a lot of chemistry,” Hurts said. “We’ve come together. We’ve hit a good little groove. We just want to carry that over into the season. … I think [Brown] and I are holding each other accountable. Whether he sees something on the field, we talk about it. That’s just part of the growth, so we’re all on the same page.”
Hurts actually didn’t believe Brown, nor his bosses, when he first found out the trade was in the works. It wasn’t until the FaceTime chat that everything came to fruition.
When Brown looks back at his relationship with Hurts and how the two friends have evolved, he labels that phone call between them that occurred immediately following the trade and his contract extension as a moment full of joy.
“I was really in disbelief,” Brown said. “It was on both sides. We always talked about playing together. It wasn’t necessarily planned, but it really happened. That’s what we kept telling each other, that this was really happening. God works in mysterious ways.”
Earlier in the day, Brown needed to close his eyes to channel his thoughts before undergoing a rigorous workout. By the evening, he was moved to tears. Brown feels energized. His story is still being written, and he plans on keeping his eyes wide open for the next stage of his career with Hurts at his side.
Brown concluded: “I’m ready to go to war for him. I’m ready to go to war with him. This upcoming Sunday, I’m excited for the season. We definitely put in a lot of work this offseason, this camp. We’re in a good place, and we’re ready to go.”