A lot’s been said and written about Trent Brown over the last two months, and most of it is unflattering.

One report indicated the Patriots struggled to motivate Brown, who’ll be a free agent in March, throughout a 4-13 season. Another suggested he was “habitually late” to meetings. A recent exposé from the Boston Herald claimed Brown openly discussed plans to play for an NFC team while in the locker room a day after the Week 14 road win over the Steelers.

Now, the 30-year-old tackle has told his side of the story.

Brown pushed back against those narratives during a phone interview with NESN.com on Saturday. He also touched on his future in New England — if there even is one — and what the franchise must do to get back on track after a third losing campaign in four years.

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Brown was dismayed over what he felt were “bulls–t” and inaccurate leaks to reporters about a supposed unwillingness to battle through injuries.

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“It’s been a rough year,” he said. “This has been a year like no other that I’ve had in my NFL career as far as the amount of anonymous sources that have come forward to spew complete lies about my character. It’s been tough to even go in the building every day knowing that there’s somebody that I probably look at every day, or smiles in my face every day, that is running a smear campaign.”

He also denied talking about playing for another team after the victory in Pittsburgh.

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“That never came out of my mouth,” Brown said. “I would never say that after a win. If anything, I was more pissed off about my performance in the Pittsburgh game. But I was happy that we got a win. I would never take away from what just happened for the group to talk about anything. … I’ve never openly said anything about any NFC team or anything like that. It’s always been about me being wherever God wants me to be, and me handling my current situation. … I never put the cart before the horse.”

On the report, Brown added: “That’s cap. That’s nonsense.”

Brown, who appeared in every game in 2022, played in seven of the first eight games this season while seeing virtually every offensive snap. The one game he missed was due to a concussion that he suffered — but didn’t report — during the Week 1 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

“I finished the game, played through that for the team,” he said. “I was aware of (the symptoms), and I did that for the team. We still had a shot to win. … And then, of course, I had to report it because I can’t do that for two weeks in a row.”

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Brown returned in Week 3 and put together an impressive stretch of football. But everything changed in Week 7 when he suffered MCL and high-ankle sprains late in the Patriots’ dramatic win over the Buffalo Bills.

“Still came back and was a part of the game-winning drive because I just wasn’t gonna give up on myself, wasn’t gonna give up on the team,” said Brown, who added some told him to stay out of the game. “I just wanted to see it through that we got a win that day. Nothing else mattered to me other than the team.”

The following week, Brown aggravated his ankle injury while stepping on left guard Cole Strange in the Patriots’ road game against the Miami Dolphins. He still played every snap in the loss and barely could walk while in the locker room afterward.

“I wasn’t happy with my performance at all,” Brown said. “I was really just out there. … I could feel it swelling in my cleat the whole time.”

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Brown added: “To think that people are saying I was unwilling to fight through injuries due to future possible earnings… that’s crazy. I’ve always put the team first.”

With his ankle the “size of a basketball,” Brown sat out the next week against the Washington Commanders. Continued ankle pain, plus a death in the family, prevented him from making the Week 9 trip to Germany.

“I was told to stay back from Germany to receive treatment — but all the trainers were in Germany, and I still couldn’t go be with my family,” Brown said. “That whole situation was crazy.”

“It’s been tough to even go in the building every day.”

Trent Brown on dealing with rumors

Brown was met with a left-tackle rotation when he returned after the bye week. He split snaps with Conor McDermott over the next three games while making just one start. After McDermott suffered a season-ending injury in Week 15 while Brown was inactive, Vederian Lowe started the following week against the Broncos with Brown rotating in for 36% of the snaps. Lowe started the final two games, with Brown inactive both weeks.

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Brown remains unsure of the initial reasons for the rotation, which led some to speculate he wanted a reduced role before hitting free agency.

“I would’ve liked to think early on that it was a health thing because when I did come back from the bye, I was the highest-graded tackle in the league that week,” said Brown, referencing his status as one of Pro Football Focus’ top-ranked tackles. “Yet still, I never griped about the rotation or anything. I just did what I was told.”

But if his leg injuries had improved, why wasn’t one of the league’s best tackles pushing for more playing time on a struggling offensive line?

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Brown cited how difficult it can be for players to come off the bench and face opponents “already in the flow of the game.” He also said he wanted the Patriots to stick with players who were succeeding, including Lowe, who showed clear improvement down the stretch. Being the “ultimate team guy” was the goal.

“You can ask Vederian Lowe,” Brown said. “You can ask Conor. I was their biggest fan and trying to help them succeed as well. And I would even tell my coach, Billy (Yates), ‘Man, this rotation, if they’re playing well, there’s no need to rotate. Let them get in this groove and stay in this groove.’ “

Brown reiterated that free agency wasn’t a concern. Nor was preventing an extended injury absence that would’ve cost him a chance at earning usage-rate incentives, which he missed out on anyway.

“It was never about (money),” said Brown, whose contract was tweaked in September. “Of course, I want to be paid what I’m worth. But as far as incentives or whatever, it was never about that.”

Publicly, Patriots players have stood up for Brown. And Lowe backed up Brown’s claims while speaking with NESN.com on Sunday after the Patriots’ season-ending loss to the New York Jets.

“I 100% agree with that,” Lowe said when asked about Brown being his advocate. “One thing Trent has definitely done, for me personally, he’s always tried to coach me up and give me pointers. He’s been doing that the whole season since I first got here. He’s the vet, and I listen to him because he knows what he’s doing. He’s been doing this a long time.

“I think that really goes to show that he’s trying to nurture and care and uplift the younger guys, and put us on a trajectory to all be great.”

Brown’s season ended in controversy. He was inactive in Buffalo despite not being on the injury report, marking the first healthy scratch of his Patriots career. He also didn’t practice before the season finale and was inactive against the Jets.

Many assumed Brown was permanently benched for appearing to display poor effort against the Broncos. But Brown, who was coughing throughout the interview, said multiple illnesses wiped out the final quarter of his season.

“I’ve been sick pretty much the last month,” he said.

Brown claimed strep throat and the flu caused him to miss Week 15. But with McDermott injured, he felt he needed to tough it out and play against the Broncos. However, lingering symptoms and the high altitude in Denver made it difficult to breathe and play at a high level.

“It was just an accumulation,” he said.

Brown said he then developed bronchitis upon returning from Denver. A team physician gave him an inhaler the Wednesday before the Bills rematch, but it didn’t work.

“My body kind of reacted,” Brown said. “It had a different reaction to the inhaler that I was given.”

He was sent home that Wednesday, didn’t feel any better Thursday and didn’t log any practice reps Friday. At that point, he knew he’d be inactive in Buffalo.

“I just went with the flow,” Brown said. “I always do what I’m told.”

Brown said he was “coughing up all types of yellow s–t” and “barely” could stand in the days leading up to the season finale. He also dealt with a gastrointestinal issue early in the week. Brown said the Patriots sent him home each day, and that he still was dealing with strep throat and bronchitis symptoms over the weekend.

“I’ve been sick pretty much the last month”

Trent Brown on battling illnesses in December and January

Given all that’s happened, it’s hard to envision Brown re-signing with the Patriots. But he said he’s willing to return if the two sides have an honest discussion and restore trust.

“I’m not opposed to it,” said Brown, who added he doesn’t hold any grudges against head coach Bill Belichick. “I think before that would take place, some things would need to be hashed out and understood.

“Because I’ve even heard from coaches how they’ll sit in staff meetings and they’ll be talking about how they can f–k with me. Like, I guess trying to get me out of character or whatever. It’s really crazy to think that we’re spending time talking about that instead of getting better.”

Brown then called back to the spring, when he skipped OTAs because he “wanted to be a dad.” However, Brown said he was present early in the offseason program because the Patriots wanted him and Strange to get reps together. But when Brown reported, he was greeted by a curveball.

“When I come, you got me running with the twos,” Brown said. “Why am I here? That makes no sense. So, I left.”

Brown then showed up late to minicamp — reportedly due to a travel issue — and didn’t see much work over the abbreviated two-day session. A month later, with rumors of a contract dispute swirling, the Patriots asked Brown to report early to training camp.

“Of course, as a nine-year vet, that had me a little ticked off because you got me reporting with the rookies and I’m not injured,” Brown said.

Brown added he reported to camp in better shape than he would’ve if he’d spent the summer break in New England.

“The offseason program there is hard as s–t,” he said. “It’s not like that in no other place. I feel like you put a lot more mileage on your body there than you would working smarter at home.”

Like any player, Brown wants to play for a team that can compete. But he has doubts about the Patriots’ ability to turn things around if they don’t make big changes to how they build and treat their roster.

“There just needs to be more attention on signing and drafting good players,” he said. “And also understanding that Foxboro is not a vacation spot. You’ve gotta spend some money to get good players, and you’ve gotta spend money to keep your good players in-house. And once they’re in-house, you’ve gotta treat them with some respect and common decency as a human being.”

Brown pointed toward how the Patriots communicate scheduling details throughout a season.

“Other teams have schedules for the month, or some get the schedule for the year at the beginning of the season,” Brown said. “So, there’s just no reason why we don’t know our schedules until a day before. That’s just disrespectful to people’s finances and time as far as those with families.”

Brown used an example of not learning a bye-week schedule until the last minute.

“If people have families and they want to go somewhere, flights are expensive, you know what I mean? Respect that,” he said.

Brown also believes the Patriots have lost some of their attractiveness as a free-agency destination since Tom Brady left in 2020.

“The incentive to come play with Tom no longer exists,” he said.

Brown also touched on quarterback Mac Jones, who was benched for the final six weeks and appears in need of a fresh start. Many believe Jones was set up to fail behind an inexperienced and mismanaged O-line, and Brown agrees.

“I don’t think you can rebuild the quarterback and the O-line at the same time,” he said.

Brown highlighted two decisions from the 2022 offseason.

“If you pay Ted Karras, who played a hell of a season at left guard before he left to go to Cincinnati, I think that solves an issue,” Brown said. “I think if you don’t trade Shaq Mason, who’s an All-Pro guard, that solves an issue. I don’t think it was necessary for those moves to be made. And then to not really replace them with guys of their caliber.”

One of those replacements is Strange, a 2022 first-rounder whom Brown said recently sought his council after undergoing knee surgery. Another is fourth-round rookie Sidy Sow, who played guard in college but focused on tackle during his first training camp. Sow eventually moved back to right guard and made 13 starts while showing real promise.

“I feel like he probably could’ve gotten off to a better start if he’d been playing guard all along,” Brown said of Sow. “… You tell (Adrian) Klemm to put him at right tackle and you don’t want him nowhere else. I think that kind of delayed his development.”

Brown also believes Jones was undermined by Matt Patricia’s move to offensive play-caller in 2022.

“I know people are down on Mac and whatnot, but I don’t think it’s his fault,” Brown said. ” … Mac’s rookie year, took us to the playoffs. He had a good O-line in front of him. He had a quarterback coach. And he had an offensive coordinator that he had a relationship with, could feel comfortable with. Josh (McDaniels) leaves, and we don’t have a career offensive coordinator. We just had somebody (Patricia) who was holding the spot … doing a favor, or something.”

Brown, who also said the criticism of Patricia was unfair, then was asked whether a new QB — perhaps a top-three pick — could succeed with the Patriots in their current state.

“I think he’d see the same set of issues,” Brown said.

What the future holds for Bown in New England remains to be seen.

He might be the top tackle on the free agent market, with teammate Mike Onwenu also near the top of the list. That could price Brown out of Foxboro, but the franchise’s failure to develop any succession plan also could force them to explore a reunion.

If the Patriots ever approach that bridge, they might find there’s too much water underneath it.

Featured image via Eric Canha/USA TODAY Sports Images