Brown in an Instagram post demanded Oakland release him Saturday morning after days of back-and-forth with the team and General Manager Mike Mayock over fines related to his training camp hold out. The Raiders granted his wish.
That came after the team decided overnight Friday to void the guaranteed money in Brown’s contract. The Raiders owed him $14.6 million in guarantees this year and $14.5 million for the next, but the team hasn’t cut him a check yet, according to multiple reports, and has no plans to until Brown comes back into the fold.
That prompted Brown to tell ESPN, “No way I play after they took that and made my contract week to week,” and then to demand his release.
Of course, that whole saga comes after the Friday night YouTube video heard round the world, in which Brown recorded a phone call from Coach Jon Gruden that left open the question of whether the talented wideout would ever suit up for the Raiders.
Now, very briefly, here’s what happened even earlier in the week: an altercation with General Manager Mike Mayock that had the team deliberating on how to fine and possibly suspend Brown, Brown’s tearful apology with the backing of team captains, the Raiders decision not to suspend Brown after all, Brown’s plan to play in Oakland’s opener Monday night.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Here’s a recap of how we got to this point:
How good is Antonio Brown?
Even those fans that have grown tired of the drama that surrounds Brown would admit that the 31-year-old is very good at football. Drafted in the sixth round in 2010 out of Central Michigan, he grew into one of the league’s most dynamic pass-catchers over the course of his nine seasons in Pittsburgh.
Brown topped 1,000 yards receiving in seven of the past nine seasons and led the league in that category in 2014 and 2017. He’s been selected first team all-Pro four times and was chosen for the Pro Bowl seven times. He is, undeniably, one of the game’s best offensive weapons.
Why did he leave Pittsburgh?
Last year was a tumultuous one in Pittsburgh, with star running back Le’Veon Bell missing the entire season due to a holdout, the Steelers missing the playoffs and a sense of frustration among the team and its fans. Brown was at the center of it. There were several unexcused absences, a spat with longtime Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger over a Week 12 interception and a knee injury.
Everything came to a head in Week 17, when Brown missed a must-win game against the Browns. Brown was said to have been out because of his knee, but it was later reported that an ugly practice altercation with Roethlisberger was the root cause. Brown left the practice because of it, and reportedly had no contact with the team after that point. He showed up at the game expecting to play, but didn’t make it to the field and left the stadium at halftime.
This was the final blow to the relationship between Brown and the Steelers. The team shopped him around the league once the offseason began. In February, Brown tweeted that it was “time to move on.”
How did he end up in Oakland?
That was a bit complicated, too. Late on the night of March 7, NFL Network reported that the Buffalo Bills were closing in on a deal for Brown. Buffalo was one of four teams said to be interested in acquiring Brown, along with the Redskins, Titans and Raiders.
Two days later, Brown was traded to Oakland for third- and fifth-round picks in the 2019 draft.
How is his relationship with the Steelers now?
Let’s just say that absence has not made Brown’s heart grow fonder. In August, NBC aired a video of Roethlisberger telling Michele Tafoya he regretted calling out Brown because it “ruined a friendship.” Then Brown tweeted that Roethlisberger was never his friend. “Shut up already,” he wrote in the tweet that was later deleted.
When did the Raiders drama start?
The public drama surrounding Brown’s tenure with the Raiders started from the feet up. At some point in July, Brown underwent cryotherapy treatment, designed to relieve pain through freezing temperatures.
Apparently Brown’s feet were not properly covered during the treatment, because he got severe frostbite. The injury kept him out of early training camp sessions, and he sought help from a specialist. Photos of the injury were gruesome, but the team expected Brown to heal quickly and return to the team. That was the plan, at least.
Ah yes, the helmet stuff. On August 9, ESPN reported that, while the foot injury was still an issue, the bigger concern for Brown and the team had to do with his helmet. New league safety rules, introduced in 2017, mandated that players had to use any number of newer, approved helmet models. Brown, who had been using a Schutt AiR Advantage helmet since his rookie season, would no longer be allowed to do so.
Brown took this issue seriously enough that he reportedly threatened retirement over it.
He filed a special request with an independent arbitrator. It was denied. He filed another grievance with the league. Also denied.
Is that why he was facing a possible suspension?
On Thursday, NFL Network reported that Brown would not be with the team for its Week 1 game against Denver. By Friday, NFL Network reported there was a chance that Brown will play against the Broncos, and ESPN reported that Brown had apologized to the team. Later Friday, the team changed course.
So where do things stand?
Brown could very quickly turn into Tom Brady’s new favorite target. He’s gone six straight seasons with at least 100 catches. He can play a variety of roles on offense, from running routes in the slot, to catching passes over the middle, to burning defenders downfield for the deep ball. He’s eligible to play next week.
Although New England snapped up Brown quickly, many NFL experts said Brown was not worth the risk in terms of money or a roster spot. Consider that Brown forced his way out of Pittsburgh, they said. The same was true for his short-lived stint in Oakland. But the Patriots and Coach Bill Belichick didn’t seem all that concerned. If things work out and Brown and the team can stay on good terms, New England is a strong contender for yet another Super Bowl.