Tarell Brown SF 49ers

Tarell Brown started the season as the San Francisco 49ers’ top cornerback, but he wasn’t paid like one. Not after a $2 million salary escalator was voided when he skipped a voluntary offseason workout.

If that wasn’t painful enough, Brown suffered a pretty awful-sounding injury in New Orleans.

“I ended up tearing the cartilage in my rib, and it was so close to my lungs that it was hurting me to breathe,” said Brown, who also suffered a rib fracture.

“I wasn’t 100%. As a football player, as a guy trying to lead your pack as a DB, especially as a leader in a group, you’ve got to fight through things. Especially with a team like this. We had something special, so I really wanted to be a part of it.”

When he returned to the field, he was the No. 3 cornerback. Not exactly optimal during a contract year, but Brown never complained. Instead, he rose back through the ranks, regained his starting job in the playoffs, and ended up being the guy the Seahawks didn’t want to target in the NFC Championship. After Steve Smith beat him for a touchdown the week before, Brown was only targeted twice in Seattle. Those targets both resulted in two catches … for 11 yards combined.

“I don’t think they attacked me much at all. I had good coverage on a lot of the plays. My biggest thing was, they have a lot of tendencies in the passing game that we can take advantage of. One of the things we did, we played a lot of man-to-man and we played in off man-to-man to try to make it look like a zone and discourage Russell Wilson, make him think a little more at the line of scrimmage,” said Brown.

“But we didn’t come out with the victory, so it’s unfortunate.”

As the 49ers take a look at their free agents and extension candidates, a starting-caliber corner like Brown might end up being too expensive. But even with the money he lost before the season and the playing time he lost after his injury, Brown sounds like someone who has no hard feelings toward the team that drafted him in the fifth round in 2007.

“I would love to come back here and play here,” Brown said. “The type of chemistry we have is something special. If we could come back and do it all again, I would love to do it.”

The 49ers only have three FOUR cornerbacks under contract next season — Tramaine Brock, Carlos Rogers, Darryl Morris and Chris Culliver. Rogers is likely going to be a salary cap casualty, Morris was a special teams contributor who only saw the field as a cornerback during garbage time, and Culliver was reportedly sprinting at the 49ers’ facility last week as he makes his way back from knee surgery. Brown will want to recoup some of that lost money (not that he’d leave money on the table even if he didn’t lose $2 million several months ago), but he may be sincere when says he’d love to return.

Before Jim Harbaugh and Vic Fangio arrived, Brown started five games in his first four seasons. He started every game in 2011 and 2012, and he says he blames his ex-agent for the contract snafu and not the 49ers.

If anything could drive Brown away from the 49ers, it’s the possibility of lockering next to Quinton Patton for the second straight season.

That’s not true at all, but it was pretty amusing when I asked Brown about that as the team cleaned out their lockers one day after the NFC Championship. While a few of us were talking to Brown, I heard someone whisper something in my ear. I couldn’t tell what was said, and when I turned around I saw Patton. I asked him to repeat his question.

“Ask him if he’ll miss being locker mates with Quinton Patton.”

Okay, no problem. I asked.

“He’s a young guy who did an amazing job this year. He has a lot of talent, future’s very bright for him. He does a great job of being himself. He’s a very annoying locker mate when I’ve got to hear music at seven o’clock in the morning, but I enjoy it,” Brown said. 

To see Patton’s reaction when I let him know that Brown called him “annoying,” watch the video below.