Brown jammed an eon of drama into the past 72 hours, a saga that included cursing at his general manager, secretly recording his coach for a self-published hype video and asking for his release. It ended — or, more likely, continued — with Brown posting an image to Instagram of himself in a No. 84 Patriots jersey, shortly before he posted a video of himself celebrating wildly at the news the Oakland Raiders, for whom he never played a down, released him.
The one-year contract to which the Patriots and Brown agreed, worth up $15 million including a $9 million signing bonus, represents essentially zero financial risk. But the Patriots are still taking a risk. They are adding a volatile force to a harmonious locker room. They are betting they can reform Brown, who has left wreckage in his wake while shooting his way out of two franchises in nine months. They are wagering Brown will not leave them in a lurch the way he did Pittsburgh last season, when a dispute over another wide receiver being named team MVP led him to skip a crucial Week 17 game.
Brown signs with Pats hours after Raiders cut him
Maybe the Patriots know Brown will arrive in New England on his best behavior. Maybe Brown skipped work and threw tantrums in Oakland because he knew the Patriots would be there to sign him if he forced his way out and he wanted to play in New England. Maybe it’s an all an act, and Brown didn’t mind behaving like a madman to get what he wanted. “I’m free!” he screamed in the video.
But Brown’s actions in the past year demonstrate he cannot be relied upon, even in the structure of Bill Belichick’s program. The Patriots can tell themselves they believe they are not relying on him, that they will cut ties with him the minute they feel he’s more trouble than he’s worth. But what happens if he shows up one day in December and finds a coach’s comments disrespectful or feels unappreciated or eats a bad peach in the team cafeteria? What if he decides he can’t play for the Patriots anymore after they have built part of their offense around him? No matter how much faith they have in their infrastructure to handle problematic personalities, the Patriots are walking into a minefield.
It seems like a terrible fit. Brown lives on social media and once posted Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin’s postgame locker room speech. Belichick demands secrecy and will not tolerate insubordination. Belichick stands apart from others coaches, but one way he is like them is he can be blinded by ego. Belichick believes he can make Brown fit in. We’ll see.
Hello, New England: The Antonio Brown saga, explained
Belichick’s evaluation of players often begins with a simple question: Does he love football? Brown’s actions for the past year suggest he doesn’t care much about it. He skipped a game with a playoff spot potentially in the balance. He froze his feet in a cryotherapy chamber, which meant he couldn’t practice at the start of training camp. He threatened retirement because he was unable to play under helmet requirements 2,000 other NFL players had no issues with. He didn’t report to practice, and when he was fined for it, he posted the fines on social media, said his own team “hated” him and tried to fight General Manager Mike Mayock. He apologized to teammates Friday; by Saturday, he was demanding his release.
In the video he posted Friday night, Brown tells Raiders Coach Jon Gruden he is more than a football player. That is a fair and admirable sentiment for an athlete. But Brown’s actions suggest that what he really means is that he believes he is bigger than football, that he no longer needs — or even wants — the sport to be a part of his life. There is a big difference between a football player who embraces interests and initiatives outside the sport and a guy who is acting like Brown. To be more than an athlete, you also have to actually be an athlete.
Again, maybe it was all an act, a way for Brown to force his way to a desired location. If that’s true, it cost Brown roughly $20 million in guaranteed money. Which makes it seem false and that Brown was just acting like Brown.
Brown has no reason to believe he shouldn’t keep doing what he’s doing. He blasted coaches and teammates in Pittsburgh, and he was rewarded with a trade and $30 million in guarantees. He wouldn’t play in a new helmet, and he got an endorsement deal out of it. He cursed at his general manager, and it got him traded to the defending Super Bowl champions. From his perspective, nothing has suggested he has made even one mistake.
But it’s the Patriots, so this question must be considered, if not accepted in the affirmative: What if they’re right?
Tom Brady’s top three wide receivers are Josh Gordon, Julian Edelman and Brown. If everything with Brown calms down and if Gordon’s substance-abuse issues are behind him, there is not a better trio in the NFL. The Patriots, already favorites for a seventh Super Bowl championship, just added the league’s most productive pass-catcher of the past decade.
Belichick once acquired Randy Moss from the Raiders for a song, and for a season of catching bombs from Brady he returned to form as the most lethal wide receiver in the NFL. If opponents had difficulty stopping Edelman over the middle and Patriots backs out of the backfield, imagine what happens when their safeties have to worry about Brown bursting down the sideline.
The Raiders look like suckers. They shipped two third-round picks and a fifth-rounder to the Steelers the past two seasons for Martavis Bryant and Brown, two wide receivers who had zero impact for them. Good for them for finally drawing a line in the sand, but that happened only after Brown hijacked their camp and they groveled for a day to get him back into their good graces. Did they not see this coming? The Steelers shipped out Brown for two mid-round picks for a reason.
Randy Moss's advice for Antonio Brown? 'Put up or shut up' in New England
The Steelers and Raiders are in Brown’s rear view. His future in New England starts next week. The NFL’s biggest soap opera will move to its greatest team. It might work. It might be disaster. It will be impossible not to watch.
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