So many factors went into Antonio Brown’s release by the Patriots on Friday. It would be stunning if he draws interest from any other teams as the league’s investigation continues.
His time in the NFL might be over.
As much as Brown’s stellar career has been overshadowed and besmirched by his recent behavior as a player and allegations of his actions as a person, the Patriots also have had their image tarnished in a short but ugly marriage. The team probably recognized that when it cut ties after Brown suited up for one game, contributing plenty in a 43-0 demolition of what the Miami Dolphins have turned into.
New England would have been on the hook for Brown’s entire $9 million salary (and possibly more) for 2019 had he been placed on the NFL’s commissioner’s exempt list. He couldn’t have practiced or played for the team, but as the league’s investigation continued, he would have been in a lucrative limbo — at New England’s expense.
There also was the very real specter of the league suspending Brown for violating its personal conduct penalty. That also would have stripped the Patriots of the talents they so quickly signed despite the furor Brown created, first in Pittsburgh by going AWOL among other things, then in Oakland by demanding and getting his release after feuding with the front office over how the Raiders were treating (and fining) him.
First the Steelers cut bait with, by far, their best receiver of the last decade if not their best offensive player. The Raiders and Brown didn’t last into his first season in Oakland, of course, and now he’s gone from New England.
It’s unlikely there was full agreement within the Patriots organization on grabbing Brown when he became available. But coach Bill Belichick was so swift in signing the potential game-breaking receiver that it sure seemed like everyone was on board in New England.
And with all the stuff swirling around Brown, it became impossible for the Patriots, a team that prides itself on insulation from the outside world, to hang on to him. They probably will never say it, but the Patriots recognized the distractions of having Brown on their roster would be difficult to ignore.
What’s likely ahead for Brown?
Away from the field, he’ll be dealing with a civil lawsuit by his former trainer accusing Brown of rape. There are other allegations from an artist who says he sent threatening texts to her and also exposed himself to her while she was painting a mural for him.
Other complaints about Brown’s behavior have surfaced, too — something not uncommon in such scenarios as his current one.
On the field, well, this season almost certainly is done for Brown. Should he be exonerated in the league’s investigation and not wind up with any legal charges outside the NFL, there’s reason to believe some team might take a gamble next year on a player whose skills might have had him on a path to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The backlash of signing Brown, especially with Colin Kaepernick unemployed going on three seasons after he began protesting racial and social injustice, could be immense.
Then again, there are organizations and coaches who believe they can handle problem cases like what Brown has become. Some succeed. One might try in 2020.
And there’s also the XFL launching after the Super Bowl.
It also must be remembered that sports fans can be very forgiving, as Kobe Bryant and Ben Roethlisberger have found out. Brown can only hope that’s in his future.