The New England deal reportedly includes a $9 million signing bonus and could be worth as much as $15 million. He is not eligible to play in the Patriots’ season-opening game Sunday night at home against his former team, the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Patriots had a need at wide receiver entering training camp but now can team Brown with the recently reinstated Josh Gordon and Julian Edelman. Speculation about Brown landing in New England began immediately after he was released by the Raiders. The Patriots have a history of adding controversy-generating players such as Randy Moss, Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco, Corey Dillon and Gordon.
Their success in those moves has been mixed, but the quick addition of Brown reinforces the notion that they believe firmly that the authority of Coach Bill Belichick and influence of quarterback Tom Brady will keep such players in check. Now they will take a chance on Brown. He could make his Patriots debut Sept. 15 in their Week 2 game at Miami.
Brown posted an image of himself to social media wearing a No. 84 Patriots jersey, along with a video of him celebrating his release from the Raiders. His agent, Drew Rosenhaus, confirmed the contract terms to multiple media outlets but did not respond to a request for further comment. The Patriots had no immediate comment.
The Washington Redskins also considered Brown on Saturday afternoon, according to a league official with knowledge of the team’s thinking, but decided against pursuing him. Brown would have been an upgrade over the Redskins’ inexperienced group of receivers that includes three rookies. Brown, the official said, had interest in Washington before he was traded from Pittsburgh to Oakland last spring.
Brown’s stay with the Raiders was tumultuous and ended without him playing a regular season game for the team. The Raiders announced his release with a terse statement Saturday morning, two days before their opener against the Denver Broncos at home.
“We just have exhausted everything,” Coach Jon Gruden said later Saturday during a news conference at the team’s training facility. “We tried every way possible to make it work. All I’m going to say is it’s disappointing. I’m really proud of our players, our coaches, our owner, our front office. We did everything we could to make this work. And I’m sorry it didn’t. I apologize.
“But I will tell you: I am very proud of what we did as an organization to try. And I wish Antonio nothing but the best. I’m sorry that we never got a chance to see him in silver and black. [It’s] very disappointing in my career as a coach. I really looked forward to coaching him. But it’s not going to happen and we’re not going to sit here and talk about it all day.”
Brown became a free agent and Rosenhaus immediately went to work to find a new team for the seven-time Pro Bowl selection.
“Now that Antonio is a free agent, we are focused on the future and I will immediately work on signing him to a new team,” Rosenhaus said earlier in a statement. “Antonio is looking forward to a new beginning.”
Brown wrote later Saturday on Twitter: “The child who is not embraced by the village will burn it down to feel its warmth[.]”
Gruden had said Friday that he planned for Brown to play Monday night for the Raiders against the Broncos; the team opted not to suspend or, at that point, release Brown for a midweek practice-field incident with General Manager Mike Mayock. But the Raiders also fined Brown more than $215,000 for that incident and informed him that they intended to revoke the guarantee of more than $29 million in his contract, drawing Brown’s ire and leading to his Instagram post imploring the team to cut ties with him.
Brown ended that post by telling the Raiders to “Release me,” followed by “#NOMore.”
In the Instagram post, Brown also wrote: “You are gonna piss a lot of people off when you start doing what’s best for you.”
He wrote: “And that’s fine! I have worked my whole life to prove that the system is blind to see talent like [mine]. Now that everyone sees it, they want me to conform to that same system that has failed me all those years. ‘I’m not mad at anyone. I’m just asking for the freedom to prove them all wrong.’ ”
Rosenhaus told the NFL Network in an interview that the Raiders’ attempt to revoke the guarantee in Brown’s contract “might be a legal situation” for the team, Brown and the NFL Players Association. Brown and the NFLPA could contend via a potential grievance that the Raiders were not entitled to revoke the guarantees and therefore owe Brown the $29.1 million even after releasing him.
Brown arrives in New England after asking his last two teams to let him depart. His growing discontent in Pittsburgh, tied in part to a clash with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, led to the Steelers accommodating his trade request. In March, the Raiders dealt third- and fifth-round draft picks to the Steelers for Brown, hoping that he could be the centerpiece of an on-field revival in the second season of Gruden’s return to coaching after leaving ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” broadcast booth.
“It’s unfortunate for the Raiders and for us that it didn’t work out. … So it’s time to move on and find a new team,” Rosenhaus told the NFL Network.
After the trade, Brown signed a three-year, $50.1 million contract with the Raiders. The deal contained $30.1 million guaranteed, $1 million of which was tied to a bonus and the remaining $29.1 million of which was tied to his salaries of $14.625 million for this season and $14.5 million for the 2020 season.
The contract language gave the Raiders, in their view, the ability under NFL rules to void the guarantee of the remaining $29.1 million, making those salaries nonguaranteed, based on misconduct by Brown. The Raiders informed Brown that they were exercising that right to revoke the guarantees of the $29.1 million, according to a person familiar with the case.
The fine for Wednesday’s incident with Mayock was not the team’s first disciplinary action against Brown. The team previously notified Brown that he was being fined nearly $54,000 for missing a walk-through and a day of training camp last month.
Under normal conditions, Brown’s $14.625 million salary for the 2019 season would have become guaranteed, in effect, if he’d been on the Raiders’ roster Monday, given the sport’s system for termination pay. Brown could opt to collect his full salary upon being released, under that system. However, the Raiders informed Brown it is their contention that Brown would not be entitled to such termination pay of his full 2019 salary. That would become a point of contention if the NFLPA files a grievance on Brown’s behalf.
The Raiders fined Brown $215,073.53 for Wednesday’s incident with Mayock. That’s one-quarter of the $860,294.12 — one game check for Brown amounting to one-seventeenth of his 2019 salary — that the Raiders could have fined Brown for conduct detrimental to the team, under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement between the league and the NFLPA. Brown could appeal his fine through the union, if it’s not rescinded as part of his release.
Gruden said Saturday that Brown is “a good guy” but “misunderstood.”
“I was very hopeful about what he could bring here,” Gruden said. “Unfortunately it’s not going to happen. And I’ll tell you, he’s a good guy. He’s misunderstood by a lot of people. But he is a good guy. He’s a great player. And I hope he gets what he’s looking for.”
Gruden pointed to “a series of things” that severed the relationship between Brown and the Raiders.
“It didn’t work,” Gruden said. “It didn’t fit here. Right now he would have to answer that for himself. And I’m sure he will. Again, I wish him the best. And I’m sorry to the Raider fans.”
The Raiders chose not to suspend Brown for conduct detrimental to the team. Under the CBA, a team can suspend a player as many as four games without pay for such conduct. But when Brown returned to practice Friday after being told to stay home Thursday, Gruden told reporters that the plan was for Brown to play Monday night.
Brown apologized to Raiders players in a team meeting Friday and later told reporters: “I’m excited to be out here today. I apologized to my teammates [and] the organization. Enough talk, man. I’m excited to be out here with my teammates. I’m grateful for all the fans. I’m excited to be a part of the Raiders and see you guys soon.”
Later Friday, Brown released a YouTube video containing, it appeared, a phone conversation that he’d had with Gruden. In the conversation, Gruden asked Brown if he wanted to be a Raider and Brown replied that the issue was whether the team wanted him to be a Raider. Gruden told Brown to cease his off-field antics and just play football.
The incident with Mayock came after Brown posted to social media a copy of the letter from the GM informing him of the $54,000 in fines. According to reports, Brown used disparaging language during Wednesday’s incident and threatened to punch Mayock but the confrontation did not become physical. Brown reportedly also punted a football and told Mayock to fine him for that.
The Raiders told Brown to stay home Thursday and he complied, missing that day’s practice. But Rosenhaus worked to repair Brown’s relationship with the team. Raiders officials mulled the possibility of suspending or releasing Brown after Wednesday’s incident, according to people with knowledge of the deliberations, but decided against it. The team had hired Mayock, a former draft analyst for the NFL Network, as GM, but Gruden is believed to have the final say over major player-related decisions.
Brown missed practice time during training camp and the preseason after suffering injuries to his feet, reportedly while undergoing cryotherapy treatments, and while fighting the NFL with two failed grievances in which he sought to be allowed to wear a helmet not up to the league’s safety standards.
Les Carpenter contributed to this report, which has been updated.