At around 9:47 p.m. Eastern Time Friday night, Antonio Brown set off the professional football equivalent of a hydrogen bomb via social media.
That’s when a professionally edited video he’d just posted started making the rounds, shocking reporters, fans and the Raiders alike.
The two-minute video, which featured Brown posing and smiling and touting himself as wholly misunderstood, also included snippets of a presumably private and recent conversation the far-gone wideout had with Oakland Raiders head coach Jon Gruden.
This was a massive breach of trust. Then on Saturday morning, Brown took to Instagram to ask for his release and call his bosses fake. Together, the video and post were the final straw for Gruden and the Raiders, who put an end to the Antonio Brown era by releasing him.
And while the decision puts the final touch on an ordeal that clearly represents a complete and total failure on the part of the Raiders’ organization — which is the biggest loser in this whole ordeal, and we’ll get to it in a bit — the thing that was so striking about the video was hearing Gruden, a cocksure coach if there ever was one, basically pleading with Brown to knock it off with the antics.
I mean, here was Gruden, a man whose cursing and sneering and preening for the cameras has made him one of the NFL’s most well-known and popular coaches, clearly at his wits’ end with Brown, a man in whom he had put so much faith.
And it makes sense! Not only did Gruden presumably lead the charge to trade for Brown following the diva wideout’s divorce from the Steelers, one of the few things this year’s “Hard Knocks” taught us was how much Gruden was looking forward to calling all those sweet plays he’d drawn up for one of the NFL’s most dynamic players. Only Brown couldn’t get out of his own way enough to ever see the field, instead choosing to make himself the center of attention over the last month in the NFL world with ridiculous controversy after controversy.
It’s a choice that should cost Brown the $30 million the Raiders guaranteed him in a new deal shortly after they traded for him — by the way, even Louis Tully from “Ghostbusters” could prove in a court of law that Brown’s conduct over the month was detrimental to the team — but Brown might not even be the biggest loser in all this.
No, that would be Gruden, who repeatedly said “sorry” to Raiders fans in his regularly scheduled Saturday afternoon press conference leading up to their Monday night showdown against Denver.
“We just have exhausted everything, we’ve tried every way possible to make it work,” Gruden told reporters. “All I’m gonna say is it’s disappointing. I’m really proud of our coaches, our players, our owner, our front office, we did everything we could to make this work, and I’m sorry it didn’t. I apologize … I wish Antonio nothing but the best. I’m sorry we never got a chance to see him in silver and black — it’s very disappointing in my career as a coach. I really looked forward to coaching him. But it’s not gonna happen.”
And as the man in charge of the Raiders — which Gruden is, considering he’s entering the second year of a 10-year contract — that’s exactly what he should have done. This entire ordeal has made the entire organization look bad, starting with the fact they let Brown miss practices and do all sorts of things that would have gotten other players cut faster than you can say “knock on wood if you’re with me.”
In addition, the very fact that Brown wasn’t cut after his insubordinate blowup with general manager Mike Mayock, which came in front of the entire team, is an embarrassment, one that goes against Raider tradition. Remember, while Al Davis was all for having outlaws, he wasn’t OK with players making themselves bigger than the Raiders. He supposedly benched a Super Bowl MVP, Marcus Allen, during the prime of his career for that very reason.
No doubt, Al Davis would not have stood for this. But that didn’t keep Gruden from dying on the “A.B. is misunderstood” hill.
“I’ll yell ya, he’s a good guy,” Gruden said. “He’s misunderstood by a lot of people, but he is a good guy, he’s a great player. I hope he gets what he’s looking for.”
But Gruden may have a bigger problem on his hands, especially if the Raiders get off to another slow start this season. The point of trading away talented cornerstones in Khalil Mack (a team captain) and Amari Cooper a year ago was to bring in his old guys and establish a new culture, but everything about the way they handled Brown undermines the concept of teamwork and accountability that all good football teams embrace.
The Raiders, point blank, made exceptions for Brown, and while Gruden’s players may never verbalize it, it’s something I suspect they’ll grumble about if and when Gruden tries to rip them or hold them accountable individually. Pro athletes are very perceptive when it comes to figuring out if coaches are practicing what they’re preaching; when a coach isn’t, respect is harder to come by.
I suspect Gruden knows that, because in his address to the media, he also shouted out his remaining players many times.
“I will tell you I am very proud of what we did as an organization,” Gruden said. “We’ve got 12 rookies … we’ve got a lot to be excited about as we build our team. Unfortunately this has overshadowed a lot of great performances by young people who have put themselves in position to start their career on Monday Night Football.”
And if the Raiders lose Monday night, you just know Gruden will continue to get questions about the Brown ordeal and whether it had an affect on the result. It will be poetic, in a way.
“At least I got to meet Antonio,” Gruden said Saturday, trying to lighten the mood. “I never got to meet Khalil.”
But if things go sideways for the Raiders this season, no one may come to regret that more than Gruden.
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