There haven’t been many dull moments with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this year, so maybe we shouldn’t have been surprised when the news dropped via several national NFL outlets that former Steelers, Raiders and Patriots wide receiver Antonio Brown was flying to Tampa Bay to visit with the Bucs on Friday night.
That news soon gave way to a report by ESPN’s Adam Schefter that Brown had already agreed to a one-year (read: 8-game) contract with the Bucs, with some language still needing to be finalized.
Update: Antonio Brown and the Buccaneers have reached agreement on a one-year deal, per sources.
Language still has to be finalized, COVID protocols passed, but Brown is likely to make his Bucs’ debut in Week 9 against the Saints.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) October 23, 2020
On the field, we have seen just one game of Antonio Brown over the past 669 days (I know, Gronk, “nice”), a 4-catch, 56-yard, 1-touchdown performance with Tom Brady in New England that left Patriots fans salivating about what the potential long-term chemistry between the greatest quarterback of all-time and one of the greatest wide receivers of all-time could look like over the course of a 16-game season and a sure-fire trip to the playoffs.
But Pats fans never got to see that connection blossom, because Brown dumped gasoline on his on and off-field life and lit the match. Again. Let’s backtrack.
Over the course of the past 669 days, Antonio Brown has done the following:
• Skipped several practices before a Week 17 game with the Steelers because of a dispute with teammate Ben Roethlisberger. Brown was then benched for the game.
• Seven months later, after being traded to the Raiders, Brown suffers a frostbite injury to both feet after failing to wear proper foot protection during a cryotherapy session
• Five days later, Brown begins a two-week holdout against the NFL in protest of the league banning his Schutt Air Advantage helmet for safety reasons
• After losing two grievances to play in his favorite helmet and collecting almost $54,000 in fines from the Raiders, Brown posted the letter from Raiders GM Mike Mayock detailing those fines on Instagram. Included with the image was a caption which contained the phrase, “when your own team wants to hate”.
Later that day Brown is subordinate at practice before getting into an altercation with Mayock. Several reports said Brown needed to be physically restrained by teammates.
• Brown posts a YouTube video of a private call between he and Raiders head coach Jon Gruden. The team responds with massive fines and the voiding of guaranteed money in his contract. Brown refuses to play without guaranteed money, demands his release and the Raiders oblige.
• Per ESPN: One day after the Patriots sign Brown, the receiver’s former trainer Britney Taylor files a civil suit accusing Brown of three incidents of sexual assault or rape in 2017 and 2018. In addition to the Taylor lawsuit, Brown faces another allegation of sexual misconduct by a female artist who was working at his Western Pennsylvania home in 2017. That allegation was part of a Sports Illustrated report published Monday that detailed domestic incidents involving Brown, a charity auction theft and multiple unpaid debts.
• The Patriots release Antonio Brown after the artist’s lawyer revealed to the NFL threatening text messages from Brown to her client.
New tonight: Antonio Brown sent our source from Monday’s story menacing group text messages, including a picture of her children with instructions for his associates to investigate her.
— robertklemko (@RobertKlemko) September 20, 2019
That’s just the stuff until he was out of the league. That doesn’t even get into his two retirement announcements, the domestic incidents in which police were called to his Hollywood, Florida address repeatedly or Brown’s felony charge of battery and burglary after he and an accomplice attacked a moving truck driver at his home, per reports. Brown pleaded no contest to the charges and is currently in the midst of serving two years of probation.
Admittedly, some of Brown’s legal issues have yet to be resolved, so we can’t prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that he has done everything he’s been accused of doing. But Brown’s consistent behavior over the past several years is a strong indicator that he is at the very least a troubled, unstable human being, and at worst, well, you can deduce that one for yourself.
I know Bucs fans are pre-occupied with Antonio Brown’s current bearing as a human being and where he might be headed amidst a Bucs locker room that is extremely low-drama, but I think there is an importance to where Brown has been that must be addressed before we move forward in assessing this move.
I’m the biggest advocate in the world for second chances. My whole life story is about second chances: forgiveness and faith, failure and absolution, regret and change. Many of you can probably relate. I think if we can’t leave the door open for people to grow as human beings, learn from mistakes and use that newly obtained wisdom to impact the world around them in a positive way, we’re really missing what life is about.
But there is necessary context to second chances, and we can’t lose sight of that because our favorite team signs a good player. Brown’s history of troubling and illegal behavior isn’t a distant memory, and his actions and words since then have given zero indication that he’s remorseful for his transgressions. If anything, Brown’s saga has been vividly marked by a stark lack of accountability and remorse for the things he’s done. Getting court-ordered counseling and psychological evaluations may have helped Brown, but it’s hardly enough reason to believe he’s a changed man. And the same goes for his sudden resistance to tweeting anything inflammatory for a few months now. The bar cannot and should not be so low.
There are obvious ways that Brown signing in Tampa Bay could work out swimmingly for both sides. The last time we saw Brown on the field he was an ultra-talented pass-catcher who could play all three wide receiver spots, rarely dropped the football and could make plays after the catch too. It’s reasonable to think he’s retained a healthy amount of that talent even at 32 years old, especially with Brown reportedly staying in excellent football shape.
Brown could also be incentivized to make this relationship work and fall in line, given that any further foul play from the enigmatic wide receiver might be the nail in his career coffin. Given the strong leadership in the Bucs locker room and the coaches that have a pre-existing relationship with Brown in Byron Leftwich, Larry Foote and Antwaan Randle El, it’s realistic to think this will be the most stable NFL environment Brown has stepped into over the past few years of his career.
Ultimately, the move for Brown may not end up moving the needle much either way. The Bucs already have more than enough weapons in the passing game to be one of the most explosive offenses in the league, and every target Brown gets will be one less for Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Scotty Miller, which could result in a wash for the offense. Off-the-field, Brown’s negativity could definitely be subdued enough to not cause a ripple effect within the organization, as it was for most of his career in Pittsburgh. This could very well be a case of “good with ya, good without ya” for a roster as talented as Tampa Bay’s.
Still, the Bucs are opting to take a chance on a player who has consistently put himself above the locker room, during a year in which that kind of prioritization could put a team’s entire season at risk. Will Brown adhere to all COVID-19 restrictions and protocols enforced by the league, including during his time away from the Bucs facility, after doing essentially whatever he’s wanted to do over the past eight months of the pandemic?
“It’s a no-risk move! Just cut him if he steps out of line!”
Adherence to strict protocols in the midst of a worldwide pandemic aside, easier said than done, my friends. Sure, if Antonio Brown is arrested again or even if he bashes Bruce Arians and Jason Licht on social media, the decision might be an easy one for Tampa Bay. But what about when, after a couple 100-yard performances, Brown decides he isn’t getting the ball enough and skips a practice? What about when he angrily fires back at a coach when he’s called out on the practice field, punts a ball in response to criticism or when his career-long desire for attention (which, for the record, I don’t have a problem with as a neutral third party) draws the ire of no-nonsense offensive captain Mike Evans? What about when Brown irresponsibly broadcasts private team information on social media like he did in Pittsburgh and in Las Vegas? Are those things enough to get him fired if he has still proven to be the elite player we last saw take the field?
There’s a lot of gray area in exercising disciplinary action that goes right through the lens of Bucs-tinted glasses if we aren’t looking at this move from every angle. Ironically, the Bucs should know and understand this better than anyone outside of Brown’s three former teams. Perhaps the most concerning fact surrounding the acquisition of Brown is that Tampa Bay clearly didn’t feel adding Brown to their roster was the right move just six months ago.
“Yeah, it’s not gonna happen,” Arians said on CBS Sports Network. “There’s no room. And probably not enough money. But it’s not gonna happen — it’s not a fit here. I just know him, and — it’s not a fit in our locker room.”
Arians famously referred to Brown as “too much diva” on The Adam Schefter Podcast back in early 2019, which prompted Brown to fire back at his former offensive coordinator on Twitter.
He didn’t draft me he drafted @ESanders_10 same guy who missed rehab to go on networks to talk about me on situation he have zero clue! Arians now wears kangoo hats n glasses 😂 but ima diva! Done seen it all then they say we friends stop lien https://t.co/jALXyhQMAw
— AB (@AB84) January 16, 2019
So, let’s get everything straight. Brown has played in one NFL game in almost two calendar years, his off-field, personal and legal concerns took up half of this article and he’s participated in a long-standing feud with the Bucs head coach, who told the media signing Brown was “not gonna happen” this spring. And the Bucs are signing him anyway.
That should tell you everything you need to know about the power Tom Brady holds in the Tampa Bay organization. The move can’t be compared to bringing Rob Gronkowski on board either. Sure, Brady assuredly pushed for that signing as well, but it made complete sense from the team’s perspective as well. The Bucs needed to add a top-tier blocker at that position (very important for Arians’ offense) and O.J. Howard had struggled to stay healthy in recent years. Plus Gronkowski has always fit seamlessly into an NFL locker room, and had the football character Tampa Bay has prioritized in building the 2020 Bucs.
Brown’s addition is far less necessary and far more risky. Without Brown, the Bucs still have one of the best receiver rooms in the NFL, led by Pro Bowlers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin and complemented wonderfully by breakout speedster Scotty Miller and flashy rookie Tyler Johnson. It’s a group that could have rivaled any receiving corps in the league without Brown, and they were finally getting healthy again too, with none of the four showing up on the game day injury reports over the past two weeks.
Nope, Brown’s addition has nothing to do with what the Bucs need and everything to do with what Brady wants. Time will tell if that’s a good thing or not, but handing the general manager reins to a player, even one as great as Brady, is always dangerous. It’s like asking Ronald Jones to play quarterback for a few snaps. It may be a disaster or it may go off without a hitch, but the bottom line is that it isn’t what he’s on the team to do.
Yet, here we are. In spite of who Brown has been as a person for years now, in spite of his current eight-game suspension and outstanding legal issues, in spite of a locker room culture of high character and selfless players that Tampa Bay has built over the past two years, in spite of a head coach who has repeatedly expressed concern with Brown’s behavior and fit within the organization, even to the point of denying the marriage would ever happen just six months ago, Antonio Brown, one of the greatest wide receivers to ever play the game, is a Tampa Bay Buccaneer.
Time will tell if the move derails the most promising Bucs season since their 2003 Super Bowl team, but for now it is certainly fair to at least ask, is the risk really worth it?