Possibly the most entertaining saga in recent NFL history has finally come to an end, and depending on what team you root for, you will have had differing reactions to the finale.
Wide receiver Antonio Brown, the all-pro wideout that was traded to the Oakland Raiders from the Pittsburgh Steelers this past off-season, was released this past week after a hilariously ridiculous saga.
On the same day that he was released, he signed a one-year deal worth $15 million ($9 million signing bonus) with the reigning Super Bowl champions, the New England Patriots.
One of the top three wide receivers in the entire league became a pariah for the general managers and fans of two separate historic franchises, a sought after free agent and a member of one of the most talented offensive units in a span of three months.
So how did we get to this point? The tumultuous vilification of Brown began in week 17 of the 2018 season, with him getting into an argument with Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. There was a general consensus that Antonio Brown was at fault during the disagreement. Subsequently, he skipped the practices leading up to their pivotal matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals, leading to his benching for the final game of the season.
What followed was a request to be traded from the only franchise he ever knew, and just like that, the franchise’s best receiver of all time was gone. He went from a locker room favorite to a team cancer in the blink of an eye.
He was shipped to the Oakland Raiders for a third and fifth round pick, a haul that was considered an absolute steal for Brown.
In each of the past six seasons, the Central Michigan University graduate had over 100 receptions and at least 1,297 receiving yards. He was named to the NFL’s top 100 players list each of the past six seasons, ranking in the top 10 in each of the last five seasons.
He’s led the league in total receptions twice (2014 and 2015), receiving yards twice (2014 and 2017) and receiving touchdowns once (2018).
The Raiders believed they were going to be the recipients of a transcendent superstar that had the ability to jump-start their rebuild. The team had a 4-12 record last year, with deficiencies in both the rushing and passing game.
Neither personnel unit had a player get over 1,000 yards for receiving or rushing. The team leader in receptions had 68 catches and the unit as a whole only had 19 receiving touchdowns.
Conventional wisdom would suggest that the Raiders were going to see an upgrade in output because of Brown. A disgruntled star leaving a toxic situation for a “calmer” atmosphere would usually spell success.
They were hoping to see the beginning of a beautiful partnership between quarterback Derek Carr and Brown, with an exciting young rushing game led by first round draft pick Josh Jacobs to coincide with the duo.
However, what they got was a player that did not want to be there, plain and simple. It became painfully obvious with each “issue” that Brown had during his tenure with the Raiders that he would rather have been anywhere else than in Oakland.
Why he wouldn’t want to be there is something I cannot definitively answer.
It could have been how disgustingly average his new quarterback was, with Carr having a quarterback rating of 46.9 in 2018 (league average was 92.9 this past year).
He may have not liked being around head coach Jon Gruden, and how he’s getting $100 million over 10 years? Maybe he didn’t want to play in that God-awful stadium they have, where they literally play in the middle of a baseball field?
The only thing that was clear was that he was trying his hardest to get fired.
And as someone who often wants to leave things he doesn’t want to be a part of, I commend how expertly he went about it.
Before preseason practice even began, Brown posted pictures of his feet covered in frostbite induced blisters on Instagram.
The frostbite was caused by his failure to wear the proper footwear during cryotherapy.
A rather serious injury considering how important one’s feet are for running routes and whatnot, Brown was forced to miss 10 of 11 training camp practices. This disruption was innocent enough, and seemingly more accidental than not.
However, the whole hoopla with the helmet and him not being able to wear his old helmet seemed more suspicious.
To make a long story short, the NFL banned Brown’s preferred helmet, causing him to have to find a new one.
Brown didn’t like that, so he threatened to RETIRE FROM FOOTBALL if he wasn’t able to wear his old helmet.
An independent arbitrator denied his request to use his helmet, so he picked up another helmet, which — surprise — did not meet NFL standards.
During this entire process Brown missed multiple team practices and was fined $54,000 by general manager (GM) Mike Mayock.
The wide receiver did not enjoy that punishment, as he aired his grievances on Instagram, posting the actual letter of the fines.
The next day, Brown showed up to practice and got into a verbal spat with Mayock, in which he reportedly called him a hilarious word, threatened to hit the general manager, punted an innocent football and told him to “fine him for that.”
The following day he apologized to the entire team and appeared to be looking to become a functioning member of the Raiders organization.
However, less than a day later, Brown demanded his release from the team after they voided the entirety of his guaranteed contract ($29.125 million dollars). Now this part I understand.
If a team is no longer paying you for labor, then there is no reason to want to be there.
Brown was granted his release later that day.
To the untrained eye this incident may seem like a player taking a one-way trip to crazy town and burning every bridge in the NFL.
But, upon further inspection, what we saw was a masterclass in getting what you want as an NFL superstar.
According to Chris Mortensen of ESPN, Brown sought the help of social media consultants in order to get released.
That explains posting the letter from Mayock and posting a literal recording of a phone call with Gruden (a crime).
And what was the outcome of this whole ordeal?
Brown is now a part of the most prolific team in the NFL: the New England Patriots, who just recently dismantled the Steelers (his former team) by a score of 33-3.
He now has the greatest quarterback of all time, Tom Brady, throwing to him, and is flanked by a number of weapons including wide receivers Josh Gordon and Julian Edelman.
For all his trouble, Brown is now well on his way to another 1,000+ receiving yard season and has earned a free pass to the American Football Conference Championship game.
Not bad for a week’s worth of turmoil.