FOXBOROUGH – Over the weekend, one of the most bizarre stories in the history of football came to its natural conclusion.
Since joining the NFL in 2010 as a wide receiver for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Antonio Brown has been one of the best players in the game. In 2015, he led the league in receptions and receiving yards and just last season, despite missing a game, he still led the league in touchdowns. His talent is undeniable, but Brown has had a plethora of trouble of off the field.
It began towards the tail end of last season when Brown was routinely getting into arguments with his teammates, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster. Eventually skipping practices, Brown made it clear he did not want to be a Steeler any longer.
Reportedly, the Patriots offered a first round draft pick for Brown, but Pittsburgh was wary about sending him to the top AFC contender. Instead, they settled for third and fifth round draft picks from the Oakland Raiders.
Oakland's nightmare was only just beginning.
In February, Brown was involved in a domestic dispute, which soon turned into a custody battle. He was not arrested for his involvement and the story remains ongoing behind the scenes. It was reported that the woman involved, Chelsie Kyriss, had tried to cancel her report of the allegations and the NFL opted not to pursue the case further, though there always seems to be more that they are not telling us.
Regardless, Brown's off-season continued as he intended it to until bizarre moments began popping up out of his stint in the Raiders' training camp.
Frostbite forced him to miss the majority of sessions while he simultaneously lobbied to be able to wear his old football helmet. Twice he protested the new helmets to the NFL and twice he lost. His threats to retire if forced to wear the new helmet ultimately went nowhere.
Then, in September, Brown was fined by Oakland general manager Mike Mayock for "unexcused absence." This resulted in Brown sharing the fine on social media and getting into a screaming match with Mayock. Teammates (including, unpredictably, Vontaze Burfict) held him back as Brown threatened to assault Mayock and taunted him, daring him to fine him again.
After a suspension loomed, Brown apologized and head coach Jon Gruden said he would play on Monday Night Football against the Denver Broncos. That was the case until Oakland voided the guaranteed money in his contract and Brown reverted right back to his ballistic attitude, sharing obscene tweets about Mayock, posting a phone call he had with Gruden online, and demanding his release from the organization publicly.
Oakland obliged and promptly released Brown, prompting many on the Internet to joke that the New England Patriots would somehow sign Brown.
Per ESPN's Adam Schefter, Brown signed a one-year deal with New England that has ten million dollars guaranteed, including nine million dollars for a signing bonus and five million in incentives.
This is an obvious case of the rich getting richer. New England was already a contender without Brown and now he puts them over the top to be heavy Super Bowl favorites once again.
On the one hand, I can see this being a Randy Moss type situation where a disgruntled player turns things around and ends up being a record-shattering target for Tom Brady.
On the other hand, this sets a dangerous precedent. I am all for the player empowerment era, but what Brown did was borderline criminal and a clear example of bullying and tantrum throwing until he got his way. To have someone with his attitude on the team is definitely not in good taste, but he is still a flier who can be cut at any moment. To Bill Belichick and Robert Kraft, he was absolutely worth taking the risk on.
To me, it seems like Brown is getting special treatment because of his talent. What is to stop any other athletes from doing the same thing if they do not like their current situation? It definitely seems unfair to Mayock, the Raiders and Steelers organizations and fan bases, and Brown's teammates.
On the field, it is a no-brainer decision for the Patriots to snatch up Brown, one of the best receivers in the game. Off the field, it is definitely a little more complicated.
This news all came before the Patriots faced off against the Steelers on Sunday Night Football last night to open the regular season. Prevailing 33-3 in a dominant effort, the Patriots made good on their pre-game ceremony that honored last February's Super Bowl win (even Rob Gronkowski was in attendance!). They showed that they do not need Antonio Brown. He's just the cherry on top. He'll make his Patriots debut this weekend against the Miami Dolphins.