All that money in Oakland couldn’t motivate Antonio Brown to play.
How about a chance at a championship in New England? How about a chance to join the best organization in the NFL? How about a shot at the most savage kind of revenge against his old team … the Pittsburgh Steelers?
The defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots. The Steelers’ AFC archrival New England Patriots.
Of course. Of course he did.
“Oh, I’m free,” Brown said while celebrating the signing in a YouTube video he posted. “Let’s go. Let’s go. Oh, I’m free.”
Brown’s deal is for a single year, $15 million, a figure that includes a $9 million signing bonus, per ESPN. Unlike Oakland, who had to give up a third-round and a fifth-round pick, the Patriots are on the hook for nothing more than that.
If he flames out, he flames out. This is what the Patriots do. They took Josh Gordon a year ago as he battled substance abuse issues and got most of a regular season out of him. When he relapsed, they didn't skip a beat and won the Super Bowl. (Gordon is back this season, too, presenting a potential nightmare for defensive coordinators.)
If Brown plays well but winds up signing elsewhere after the 2019 season, the Patriots will get a compensatory pick, likely a third-rounder.
So just like that, the Patriots score big on the eve of a season as they seek a fourth Super Bowl title in six years and a record seventh overall, which would break a tie with ... Pittsburgh, of course.
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Brown won’t be eligible to play in Sunday’s opener (against Pittsburgh, of course) but he may hang out on the sideline or something. With these two teams, there is always a likelihood it’s just a preview of a more important clash in January.
Is all of this enough for Brown to actually play football?
His antics in Oakland were a prolonged effort at getting himself fired. He was traded there and signed a huge deal ($50.1 million total, with $30 million guaranteed). Yet he clearly didn’t want to be there, or perhaps anywhere.
He missed practices. He missed preseason games. He fought the league over his helmet. He threatened to fight the general manager. He raged about being fined. He taped a phone call with coach Jon Gruden and put it on some kind of hype video.
When the Raiders wouldn’t dump him, he finally demanded his release. He played hardball. And won, well aware, perhaps, that in the NFL talent wins out. Every. Single. Time.
Now does the prospect of winning a Lombardi Trophy turn him into the latest New England reclamation project — a la Randy Moss, who forced his way out of Oakland in 2007 and wound up in Foxborough, where he caught 23 touchdowns that season?
If money didn’t do it, will winning?
There will be no latitude in New England. Bill Belichick will dump him at the first sign of trouble. Brown has to know this. Maybe it’s what he has craved all along.
Last March, as teams worked trade scenarios with Pittsburgh to get Brown, the wide receiver published a few recorded phone calls between himself and his agent, Drew Rosenhaus. The one thing they repeatedly discussed was Brown’s interest in joining a contender.
Oakland, where he wound up, is not a contender.
New England was one of the potential landing spots though, Rosenhaus said, even if it seemed unlikely Pittsburgh would deal such a talent to such a rival. Pittsburgh was desperate, however, per Rosenhaus.
“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.”
Think about that. Tom Brady getting another truly elite receiver, just as Rob Gronkowski retires.
Brown 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. He’s a Hall of Fame talent.
He can also be an unfathomable headache. New England has a way of forcing conformity though. And while intangibles such as character and culture are nice, touchdowns are nicer.
Belichick knows that.
Is that enough for Antonio Brown to play football? To show up every day and compete? To limit social media and realize that a test of wills with his quarterback will end in failure?
New England thinks it’ll work. They just got a game-breaking talent for next to nothing. It is the most Patriots of all moves, the aura of the place giving them an advantage and their ability to manage the salary cap giving them the flexibility to pounce.
Antonio Brown to New England. Antonio Brown catch passes from Tom Brady. Antonio Brown potentially against the Steelers.
“Think about that,” Drew Rosenhaus once said.
It seems like Antonio Brown thought a lot about that.
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