Antonio Brown may go down in history as one of the greatest receivers the game of football has ever seen, but he’s also going to leave the NFL wondering what could have been had he just been able to get himself on the gridiron.
The 31-year-old currently plays for the Oakland Raiders, at least nominally. There’s a pretty good chance we may never see Brown – who has more receiving yards in the last five years than any receiver in any five-year span in NFL history – pull on the black and silver in any meaningful contest.
Back in March – a more innocent time which feels oh-so-long-ago – Brown was traded from the Steelers to the Raiders in exchange for a 2019 third-round draft pick (No. 66 overall) and 2019 fifth-round pick (No. 141 overall). The Steelers – wholly understandably at the time – were roundly condemned for allowing their future Hall of Fame WR to walk for two mid-round picks, whilst eating more than $21 million in cap space in the process.
GM Kevin Colbert now looks like a genius.
Brown’s departure from Pittsburgh ended a long running saga of “he said,” “she said,” back and forth between Brown, the franchise, long-time QB Ben Roethlisberger and long-time coach Mike Tomlin.
According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, prior to the Steelers’ final regular-season game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Brown and Roethlisberger got into an argument at practice, which resulted in Brown skipping practice for the rest of the week and subsequently being ruled inactive.
Meanwhile, Brown stated – constantly – that he wanted out of Pittsburgh because the franchise were unwilling to give him the guaranteed money he so desperately wanted.
Who knows what actually happened. We may never get the sordid truth. The up-shot, though, was that Brown signed a a 3 year, $50.125 million contract with Oakland, which included $30.125 million of guaranteed money.
Almost needless to say, but that’s a lot of moolah for an ageing wide receiver with renowned behavioural issues.
Things have – to understate it significantly – deteriorated since the apparent rainbows and roses of March.
First there was the frostbite. Without going in to the gnarly specifics, Brown apparently found a way to give himself an injury commonly seen in extreme mountain-climbing by failing to wear the correct protective gear when undergoing cryotherapy. If you’re a fan of dead skin, look up the pictures. We can’t stomach reproducing them here.
Okay. Fair enough. A disastrous mistake, nothing more sinister.
The next stop on Brown’s off-season comedy show was helmet-gate. Again, too complex to describe in full but, effectively, Brown threw an almighty tantrum because the NFL wouldn’t allow him to voluntarily scramble his brain by wearing an unsafe, out-dated helmet.
Side note: the unsafe, out-dated helmet may have more to do with this whole situation than we currently realise.
Okay. Maybe he was really attached to that helmet. We’ve all got our own lucky socks or undies or other idiosyncrasies. It’s not THAT weird. (Okay, risking $50 million for a helmet is slightly weird, but we’ll play devil’s advocate).
Now, though, things have officially started to get out of hand.
On Wednesday, Brown posted a picture on Instagram of a letter from Raiders GM Mike Mayock fining him – quite reasonably – for repeatedly missing walk-throughs.
He super-imposed on an image of the letter the words “”When your own team want to hate but there’s no stopping me now devil is a lie. Everyone got to pay this year so we clear.”
It seems the idea of being held accountable for his actions was not an appealing one for Brown.
The timeline is a little bit muddled, but what happened next appears to be that either Brown or Mayock confronted the other at the Raiders’ facilities and the situation degenerated quite markedly.
According to the usually-reliable Ian Rapoport, Brown threatened to hit the 61-year-old Mayock, punted a football, and said, “Fine me for that.”
In a rather remarkable piece of irony, it seems Vontaze Burfict – the same Burfict who was suspended three games for a horrendous high hit on Brown back in 2016 – who held him back from swinging at Mayock.
Maybe Burfict feels he had a slight part to play in this iteration of Antonio Brown; who knows.
On Thursday morning at practice, Mayock said that Brown wasn’t at the Raiders facility and wouldn’t be practising.
Coach Jon Gruden subsequently said that the team would have an announcement regarding Brown’s future “later”. Nothing currently has been forthcoming, although, later Thursday, the Raiders injury report listed Brown as not participating and as “not injury related – conduct.”
Meanwhile, Brown’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus, told NFL Network on Thursday night that he had been in contact with the team and his player and still hoped to be able to avoid a suspension.
“My objective is to get things worked out between Antonio and the Raiders so he can fulfil his contract and do what they brought him in to do,” Rosenhaus said.
“I don’t think it’s too late to salvage that relationship.”
It just might be, though. In Mayock’s letter to Brown which seems to have caused this second wave of ruckus, he said that the team has not ruled out “additional fines and discipline for engaging in Conduct Detrimental to the Club.”
This kind of language is not an accident. The maximum a player can be suspended for behaviour detrimental to their team is four games, which raises the possibility that the Raiders may be able to void Brown’s contract – and his guaranteed money – as a result.
The Raiders have already paid Brown his $1 million signing bonus, so if he was cut today without being suspended then he would still be owed the rest of the roughly $29 million in the contract.
However, if they suspend him and void the contract, then the guaranteed money would (obviously) also become voided, which would mean Brown is owed precisely nothing.
For obvious reasons, this would be a disastrous outcome for Brown. At 31 years old, and with the trouble he seems to carry with him, this would likely be the end of his NFL career. If some other team does back themselves to deal with the circus then you can guarantee (hah!) he won’t be seeing any guaranteed money in any contracts going forward.
For the Raiders, though, this would also be a crushing loss. For all his flaws, Brown is indisputably the greatest WR of this decade, and perhaps in the top 3 of all time. He was an All-Pro four straight years from 2014-17 and is the first player with at least 100 catches and 1,200 yards receiving in six straight seasons.
The team hosts the Broncos on Monday night in a must-win game to get the season off on the right foot. It looks like they’ll have to do it without their prized off-season acquisition.
Get your head right, Antonio.
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