Who you are off the field matters more than the abilities you showcase on it. It’s an ideology that has been greeted with plenty of conflict from the NFL, but one which has gotten more attention in recent years. No more so evident than with former All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown. After much-publicized fall from grace, there are rumblings that the controversial enigma could make his return to the league ahead of the 2020 season. There’s no questioning how much of a talent Brown can be when he’s in the right frame of mind, but given the gravity of the allegations and charges against him, the question arises of whether or not he deserves to play another down in the NFL.
Lets recap how Brown caused three NFL franchises to get rid of him in a tumultuous two-year span. Brown drew the ire of the Pittsburgh Steelers organization by secretly (and illegally) recording and posting the team’s celebration after winning their 2017 AFC divisional playoff match against the Chiefs. In 2018, Brown got into a heated argument at practice with Steelers’ QB Ben Roethlisberger. After whipping a ball back at the QB, Brown sat out practices ahead of a crucial Week 17 matchup against the Bengals. Brown was subsequently benched for the game. The blow up marked the beginning for the end of the receiver’s time in Pittsburgh, but teammates later would reveal that Brown had been a malcontent for years.
Entering the 2018 offseason, the Steelers found themselves dealing with not one but two bad apples on the roster. All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell sat out the entire 2018 season after being given the franchise tag and Antonio Brown demanded to renegotiate his contract before requesting to be traded. Combine this with his insubordination and the Steelers appeared to be fighting off a mutiny. The team let Bell walk in free agency, but seemed adamant about holding on to Brown in order to facilitate a trade that would net them some compensation in return for an elite talent. However, the disgruntled wideout made the separation all the more difficult, threatening to leave the sport altogether if his wishes were not granted.
Regardless of his outbursts, the interest in Brown remained fairly strong. Ultimately, it was the Raiders who coughed up a third- and fifth-round selection to acquire Brown. It was an ideal gain for Oakland, who had just sent their former top wide receiver Amari Cooper to Dallas in exchange for a first-round pick. A few months later, they were able to land one of the top wideouts in the league at a bargain price. In the aim of showing good faith, the Raiders restructured Browns’ contract to offer him roughly $30 million guaranteed after the trade. New Oakland general manager Mike Mayock operated in good faith with Brown and his representative based on his production and potential to help the Raiders emerge in the AFC West. And, for a brief moment, it seemed that Brown was receptive to making a fresh start in Napa Valley.
What happened in the months to come was more drama than you’d find on a CBS primetime show. Between being upset about his helmet being deemed unsafe to use and focused on being a star for the cameras of Hard Knocks, AB was conspicuously absent during mini-camp. The Raiders did what they could to try and appease their diva wideout, with little positive response in return. Then, in 2019, training camp began for the final camp and season in Oakland before the team was set to move to Las Vegas the following year. Brown showed up, but he had a hideous burn on his feet from spending too long in a cryochamber. The gnarly injury did heal, and Brown even compromised on a new helmet that met the league’s safety standard so he could get back to playing. All seemed to be trending towards a productive season. However, as you’re coming to realize, there’s always another shoe to fall when it comes to dealing with Antonio Brown. The receiver got into a heated argument with Mayock about the fines he accrued during his absence from training camp. The conversation boiled over when Brown punted a ball in the GM’s direction and stated, “Now fine me for that!”
After going back and forth with Brown, who was said to be suspended and then not, the Raiders finally reached their breaking point. Brown pretty much announced it on his social media pages, demanding to be released. He would get his wish on September 7th. After all the drama in his brief time with the Raiders, having not played a single regular season game, there couldn’t possibly be a team that would be remotely interested in bringing a natural disaster such as AB onboard.
And yet, less than 24 hours after he was released by Oakland, the New England Patriots signed Antonio Brown to a one-year contract. Before Brown was able to slide the uniform over his pads, the receiver was hit with allegations of sexual assault and rape. Physical trainer Brittany Taylor launched a lawsuit against Brown accusing him of assaulting her multiple times and forcible rape. Brown released a statement via his lawyers denying the allegations. Browns did eventually suit up for Patriots, making his debut in Week 2 in his home state of Florida, of all places. He recorded four receptions for 56 receiving yards and a touchdown. It would be his first and only statline of 2019.
The Patriots released Antonio Brown prior to Week 3.
After all of the drama, the backlash and the allegations, why would any team seriously consider picking up this troublesome wide receiver? Why would NFL clubs continue to be interested in a player who is so toxic that former agent Drew Rosenhaus dropped him as a client, citing that he would like to continue to work with Brown, but not until he seeks help. The receiver’s 841 receptions currently puts him 28th on the NFL’s all-time receptions list. His 11,263 receiving yards place him 35th in the NFL’s all-time receiving yards. The 195th selection of 2010 NFL Draft, Brown was the 22nd receiver taken after breaking out at Central Michigan in college. There’s no doubt that dedication and a relentless work ethic helped Antonio Brown’s rise to become a top tier passing target, but it seems he forgot other areas of self-improvement.
Although he turned 32 on July 10th, teams remain interested in Brown’s potential as a No. 1 option in a passing game. A technician as a route-runner, Brown defeats coverage with a blend of speed, subtle misdirection and suburb hand-eye coordination. These traits are what most football programs look for in a top player. Yet there has to be some accountability and integrity of character. Brown has proven to be unreliable when it comes to being a decent person by his actions in his personal life, as well as those in a work facility. If Antonio Brown wants a chance at redemption, he’ll need to show remorse for his actions.
Antonio Brown is no mere distraction that a single press conference can smooth over. Instead, he is a tornado who chews up and spits out whomever and whatever is in his vicinity. Brown appears confident that he will resume his playing career, showing no remorse or concern for the myriad of issues in his past. Contrition and acceptance should be keystones in his returning to work. We elevate athletes to the status of role models for their accomplishments on the field. Why shouldn’t we be doing so off? Until AB comes to recognize the privilege of playing in the National Football League, he should seriously contemplate the notion of having played his final snap for a very long time.