If actions speak louder than Instagram posts, then Antonio Brown is essentially Rob Gronkowski and Andrew Luck — a superstar veteran who has earned generational wealth and simply doesn’t want to play in the NFL anymore.
Gronk retired from New England last offseason. Luck followed with Indianapolis after the third preseason game.
Brown basically did the same by inventing ways to not practice or play for the Oakland Raiders this preseason. Despite just signing a rich, new contract, he all but dared the Raiders to fire him — frostbitten feet, helmet disputes, threatening to beat up the general manager, social media antics.
Finally on Saturday morning, he demanded his release and Oakland obliged, making him an unrestricted free agent.
Among the myriad questions this saga begs is this: Should anyone sign him?
Hell yes they should. Then they should hope that he expresses a willingness to actually play. It would be like getting a Gronk or Luck to unretire.
Thirty of the league’s 32 teams no doubt have had or will have a discussion about bringing Brown in. Pittsburgh and Oakland clearly want no part of him.
Everyone else should kicking the tires on this because you simply can’t find guys like this every day. Forget “culture” and “chemistry” and “character.” You win in the NFL with talent more than anything.
Intangibles are nice. Touchdowns are nicer.
If he’s on the field, Brown can deliver those. He’s a Hall of Fame-caliber talent. He posted six consecutive seasons of at least 100 receptions, at least 1,200 yards and at least eight touchdowns (including 15 last year for the Steelers). He changes an offense just by being on the field.
Better yet, you really can’t find guys like this for what will presumably be a low-guarantee, incentive and performance bonus-rich deal that limits risk.
Brown was a disaster for Oakland because they sent a third-round and a fifth-round pick to Pittsburgh to get him. They also signed him to a three-year contract with some $30 million guaranteed, but by letting him go early they likely are out from under that.
The next team won’t even take a financial risk.
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The obvious chatter is the New England Patriots, who were apparently willing to trade for Brown last offseason. Brown released a taped conversation between he and agent Drew Rosenhaus about the Patriots trying to work a deal with the Steelers, who had become so desperate to get rid of Brown that they were inclined to trade a star to a conference rival.
“I think the Steelers are taking it very seriously and trying to get it done,” Rosenhaus said at the time. “And that’s why they’re willing to consider New England. Think about that, think about playing with the greatest quarterback in NFL history, and he’s a cool guy.”
On the tape Rosenhaus also mentioned Philadelphia, Washington, Tennessee, Buffalo and Oakland as also being interested.
And that was when teams had to give something up to get the right to sign him to a huge contract. Now? He’s cheap. Heck, he’s practically free.
Will he create some drama and not report? Perhaps. Will he cause mayhem in the locker room if things are perfect? Probably. Will he tape record phone conversations with the coach? You can’t rule anything out.
If so, dump him. Easy come, easy go.
If Brown could blow up your locker room in a matter of a few weeks, then it was far too fragile to begin with.
It’s a roll of the dice. It’s a low-cost, high-reward gamble.
Look, if Brown goes to the Patriots, he has to know that taping a phone conversation with Bill Belichick — as he did with Oakland’s Jon Gruden — would result in a beheading, not just a cutting. But maybe the chance to do what Rosenhaus said and play with the greatest quarterback in NFL history (and a cool guy) in Tom Brady is enough.
Or maybe a contender such as Philly. Brown supposedly wanted to be with a championship-caliber team when he was leaving Pittsburgh. He wound up in Oakland, which doesn’t fit that description.
Money couldn’t motivate him. Guaranteed millions couldn’t make him play. Just like Luck. Just like Gronk.
Can anything? It’s worth New England, Philly and everyone else to try to find out. There’s almost nothing to lose.
And plenty to gain.
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