“We appreciate the hard work of many people over the past 11 days, but we feel that it is best to move in a different direction at this time,” the Patriots said in a statement.
The NFL said its investigation will continue. Brown becomes a free agent, but his prospects of signing with another team are complicated by the possibility that the league could put him on paid administrative leave via placement on its commissioner’s exempt list. If he is signed and placed on the list, Brown would be paid his salary but would be ineligible to practice or play in a game.
Brown reacted to the move on social media, thanking the Patriots and writing, “The marathon continues.” Later, he added, “Just got fired on Friday.”
The Patriots previously had appeared intent on keeping Brown on their roster while deferring to the league’s investigation but took action Friday after a report Thursday night by Sports Illustrated about the text messages allegedly sent by Brown.
Brown’s one-year contract with the Patriots was worth up to $15 million and included a $9 million signing bonus. The first payment of that bonus, for $5 million, is due Monday. The team could attempt to void the guaranteed money under a clause in Brown’s contract prohibiting him from taking any action that “materially undermines the public’s respect for” the team. That potentially would lead to a grievance by Brown through the NFL Players Association.
Brown’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus, wrote on Twitter that it was “unfortunate things didn’t work out with the Patriots” but added that Brown is “healthy and is looking forward to his next opportunity in the NFL.” Rosenhaus wrote that Brown hopes to play “soon” for another team.
The NFL said in a written statement released Friday night that it had “made no findings” at this point in its ongoing investigation of the allegations against Brown.
“As long as Mr. Brown is a free agent, placement on the Commissioner’s exempt list is not appropriate,” the statement said. “If he is signed by a club, such placement may become appropriate at any time depending on the status of the investigation. Upon the conclusion of the investigation, he may also be subject to discipline if the investigation finds that he has violated the law or league policies.”
Patriots Coach Bill Belichick said earlier Friday at his regular media briefing in Foxborough, Mass., that the team was “looking into” the situation.
“I know there are questions about Antonio,” Belichick said. “We take all the situations with our team very seriously. There are some things that we’re looking into. I'm not going to comment on any of the off-the-field situations.”
For the second time since last week, Belichick cut short a news conference because of questioning about Brown.
Brown has not been charged with a crime. But a former college classmate who worked for Brown as a trainer, Britney Taylor, accused Brown in a lawsuit in Florida of rape and sexual assault in three separate incidents in 2017 and 2018. Brown denied the allegations through his attorney, who said that Brown regards the lawsuit as a “money grab.”
Another woman, through her attorney, accused Brown of sending threatening text messages to her Wednesday night.
The woman told Sports Illustrated in a previous report that Brown hired her in 2017 to paint a mural in his home but cut off contact with her when she ignored his unwanted sexual advance. After that initial report, according to Sports Illustrated, the woman received a group text Wednesday night that appeared to come from a number Brown had previously provided to her, accusing her of fabricating her account of the alleged 2017 incident. The text chain included photos of her and her children and was characterized by the woman as intimidating, according to the report.
The NFL’s personal conduct policy specifically prohibits “stalking, harassment, or similar forms of intimidation.”
In a phone conversation Friday evening, Lisa Banks, an attorney for the woman, said she and her client sent the NFL a letter Thursday night detailing Brown’s messages to the woman. NFL officials responded immediately, Banks said, and arranged a phone conversation for Friday morning.
The NFL “clearly took this seriously,” Banks said. By the time she and her client spoke Friday morning with the with NFL, league officials already had reached out to the Patriots and Brown’s representatives to instruct Brown to cease contact with the woman.
If Brown is signed by a team and placed on the commissioner’s exempt list, Goodell would decide when to remove him from it. The list is designed to keep a player off the field until the NFL decides whether to discipline him under the conduct policy, generally with a suspension without pay.
Brown could appeal being placed on the exempt list through the NFLPA. But the appeal would be resolved by Goodell, who has broad authority to discipline players under the personal conduct policy.
Brown made his only appearance for the Patriots in their victory Sunday at Miami. He had four catches for 56 yards and a touchdown. He had become one of the NFL’s most productive pass-catchers for the Steelers, averaging 114 catches for 1,524 yards and 11 touchdowns in his final six seasons with them.
Adam Kilgore contributed to this report.