Antonio Brown has played in only one NFL game this season. He has been with three teams in 2019 and was released by the last two. He remains unsigned and out of the league as the NFL continues to investigate allegations of rape, sexual assault and sending threatening text messages made against him by two women.

But his name has been back in the news in recent days as the legal maneuvering surrounding him continues and as some wonder about his prospects of possibly playing again this season. There has been speculation about the New England Patriots, who released Brown in September, considering re-signing him as they ready for another potential Super Bowl run.

To many of those familiar with the case, however, little to nothing has changed. They consider it unlikely that Brown will play for the Patriots or any other NFL team during what’s left of this season, believing that his return to the league probably will not occur until next season. Representatives of multiple teams said this week they are convinced that the NFL would put Brown on the commissioner’s exempt list if he is signed before the end of the year.

The talk about a potential return to New England included former Patriots tight end Christian Fauria saying on Boston radio station WEEI that the team has “kicked the tires” on Brown. Quarterback Tom Brady did his best to steer clear of the issue during an appearance with Westwood One Radio.

“I don’t think those decisions, honestly, are up to me,” Brady said.

Coach Bill Belichick was likewise evasive when asked during a news conference about Brown’s public apology to Patriots owner Robert Kraft for comments made on social media following Brown’s release, saying, “You can just talk to Robert about that.”

From a football perspective, the possibility of bringing back Brown might be tempting to the Patriots as they chase what would be a seventh Super Bowl title with Belichick as their coach and Brady as their quarterback. They are in the thick of the race for the top seed in the AFC playoffs. But they have been led by their defense, while Brady and the offense have had their issues. With tight end Rob Gronkowski reportedly likely to remain in retirement at least for now, the return of Brown would help Brady.

But it’s about far more than football and far more than Kraft’s relationship with Brown. After Brown was released by the Patriots, he implied on social media that there was a double standard in how he was being treated compared with Kraft, who pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor prostitution-related charges last winter in Florida. This week, Brown apologized to Kraft on social media and wrote he was “sorry for the bad media and the drama.”

That doesn’t mean, though, that the Patriots are willing to overlook the issues that led them to release Brown in September. And it doesn’t mean that the Patriots would be willing to potentially pay Brown not to play for them if he’s on the exempt list. People familiar with the team’s planning said they don’t expect the Patriots to re-sign Brown.

Other teams seem to be taking the same wait-and-see approach, wanting a ruling from the league on Brown’s playing status. He met with NFL investigators last week in Florida, and according to a person familiar with the league’s inner workings, the NFL now is in the process of following up on information that Brown provided.

The league has not clarified Brown’s playing status since announcing when the Patriots released him that it would not place him on the exempt list while he’s a free agent but would make a determination if he’s signed by a team.

Brown faces potential discipline by the NFL under its personal conduct policy. The league can place a player on the exempt list while its decision about a prospective fine or suspension without pay under the policy is pending. A player who is on the exempt list is paid by his team but is not permitted to participate in practices or play in games.

Brown’s attorneys this week filed a counterclaim in response to the lawsuit by Britney Taylor, his former college classmate, who later worked for him as a trainer and has accused him of rape and sexual assault. Brown has denied the allegations, and his countersuit says, “Since Taylor began her crusade of false allegations … Brown’s professional career has been debilitated and he has lost a number of lucrative endorsement contracts.”

Another woman who painted a mural for Brown accused him of sending her threatening text messages after it was reported that she ignored his unwanted sexual advances.

The Patriots signed Brown after he was released, at his request, by the Oakland Raiders, who had obtained him in an offseason trade with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Brown didn’t play a game for the Raiders and missed time during training camp because of injuries to his feet suffered while undergoing cryotherapy treatments and because of two failed grievances against the NFL seeking to be allowed to wear a helmet not up to the league’s safety standards. He also was fined for a practice-field verbal confrontation with General Manager Mike Mayock.

Brown played in one game for the Patriots and was released after the allegations against him became public. He has filed grievances attempting to force the Raiders and Patriots to pay him about $40 million in voided guarantees, unpaid salary and fines.

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