Brown is a free agent after being released Friday by the New England Patriots, but he remains under investigation by the NFL for allegations by two women of rape, sexual assault and intimidation. He could be put on paid administrative leave via placement on the commissioner’s exempt list if he is signed by another club.
A new team would be Brown’s fourth of 2019, a year in which he has been traded by the Pittsburgh Steelers and released by the Oakland Raiders and, now, New England. He was among the league’s most productive wide receivers through last season but has spent this year dominating the news cycle and disrupting teams’ operations, and he is now under investigation by the NFL.
“Until he is cleared by the league, I don’t think anyone will sign him,” a front office executive with one NFL team said on condition he not be identified. “If they deem no suspension or exempt list, say in a month, maybe one team out there would take a chance. But his toxic reputation precedes itself, for sure.”
Agent Drew Rosenhaus, who represents Brown, wrote Friday on Twitter it was “unfortunate things didn’t work out with the Patriots” but added that “Antonio is healthy and is looking forward to his next opportunity in the NFL. He wants to play the game he loves and he hopes to play for another team soon.”
Rosenhaus told ESPN on Saturday that he had communicated with “a few teams” that were interested and wanted information about Brown’s legal situation and the league’s investigation. ProFootballTalk reported that three teams were interested in Brown as of Saturday, before Brown’s string of comments Sunday morning on Twitter. Brown wrote that he is “finished with the NFL” and referenced the prostitution-related charges faced by Patriots owner Robert Kraft in Florida and the NFL suspension served by Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in 2010 after he was accused of sexual assault. Brown announced Monday on social media that he has re-enrolled in college at Central Michigan to take online classes.
Rosenhaus did not respond to a request Monday for further comment. But it is widely believed by those in and around the sport that Brown, 31, will remain interested in playing football if an NFL team is willing to sign him. Brown also reportedly threatened to retire in training camp when the league would not allow him to wear a helmet not up to the NFL’s safety standards.
“There’s always someone who’s willing to take a chance,” Bill Polian, the Hall of Fame former executive for several NFL teams, said by phone Monday. “I saw something about three teams [being interested]. I have a hard time going that far. I don’t see how anyone can make a move while the league is investigating. You could make an offer to a player that the league says is ineligible.
“When the league process is done, then people will make an evaluation of whether the talent outweighs the conduct, which is almost beyond outrageous. The latest [allegations] are very serious, and the texts, no one can ignore that.”
Former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice never played again in the NFL after the public release of video in 2014 showing him striking his then-fiancée (now his wife) in a hotel elevator. But running back Adrian Peterson and defensive end Greg Hardy were given further chances after spending much of the 2014 season on the exempt list. Running back Kareem Hunt is on the roster of the Cleveland Browns as he serves an eight-game suspension under the NFL’s personal conduct policy.
“Once the league’s process is done,” Polian said of Brown, “history tells us there’s always someone that will take a chance.”
A former NFL general manager said Monday that he didn’t “have any idea” if Brown will be signed by a team and “would not want to guess.”
But the former GM added: “I would not [sign Brown].”
A former NFL personnel executive who has interviewed for general manager vacancies said he does not expect to see Brown back in the league before next season.
“Not this season,” the former executive said.
The NFL’s investigation began after Britney Taylor, a former college classmate who later worked for Brown as a trainer, accused him in a lawsuit in Florida of rape and sexual assault. Brown has not been charged with a crime and denied the allegations through his representatives. The league’s probe widened after Sports Illustrated reported on a second accuser, a woman who painted a mural for Brown in his home and accused him of inappropriate conduct when she ignored his unwanted sexual advances.
According to that woman and her attorneys, Brown participated in intimidating group text messages being sent to the woman last week, with photos of the woman and her children included in the texts.
The NFL said in a written statement Friday night that Brown would not be placed on the exempt list while he is a free agent but that “may become appropriate at any time” if he is signed by a team. If he is on the list, Brown would be paid by his team but would not be eligible to participate in practices or games.
Brown was a seven-time Pro Bowl selection for the Steelers. But he became increasingly disgruntled in Pittsburgh, in part because of a football-related feud with Roethlisberger, and the Steelers accommodated his trade request with a deal to the Raiders in March.
He never played a regular season game for the Raiders before having his request to be released, made via social media, granted just before the season. Brown missed time during training camp because of injuries to his feet suffered while undergoing cryotherapy treatments and while battling the NFL with two failed grievances over his choice of helmet model. He posted to social media a fine letter from Oakland General Manager Mike Mayock, then was fined again and told that the team would revoke the guarantee of money in his contract after he had a verbal confrontation with Mayock on the practice field.
Brown posted audio of a private conversation with Raiders Coach Jon Gruden online, reportedly with Gruden’s permission, and later posted video of himself celebrating his release by the team. He suggested in Sunday’s Twitter comments that, through the NFL Players Association, he expects to battle the Raiders and Patriots for close to $40 million in revoked guarantees in his contracts. He played one game for the Patriots.