So, the Antonio Brown experiment is over in Oakland. It’s fair to say that it really didn’t start, but that only serves to make it sound like nothing happened in the six turmoil filled months he was with the Raiders.
To put things into an even more startling context, the large majority of those six months were the offseason and Brown would’ve been nowhere near football activity.
Before he got his move to Oakland, he was quoted as saying “I don’t even have to play football if I don’t want, I don’t even need the game. I don’t need to prove nothing to anyone. If they wanna play, they going to play by my rules. If not, I don’t need to play. Obviously, I want the game, but I don’t need the game. It’s a difference.”
That’s not the sort of thing a potential employer wants to hear, but it did not put the Raiders off from sending a third and fifth round pick to the Pittsburgh Steelers to sign him. They then restructured his contract to give him $11 million more in total and $30 million in guarantees. With everything that has transpired in the six months since, you have to question if there is any truth to the “obviously I want the game” part of that quote.
The Raiders were very disappointing in Jon Gruden’s first year back in the Bay Area, posting a 4-12 record. But after the hiring of draft guru Mike Mayock as the new General Manager, they drafted well and made some nice splashes in free agency – signing impressive tackle Trent Brown, safety LaMarcus Joyner and wide receiver Tyrell Williams.
There was hope that things were finally coming together for an organisation that had been largely dysfunctional since, well, the last time Gruden was at the helm. That hope started to fade pretty quickly, as the Oakland Raiders quickly turned into the Antonio Brown show. A horror show.
Brown, who has a reputation for being an incredibly hard worker, turned up sharp for OTAs in May, but the good start didn’t last long.
Brown decided that he would not wear his new helmet.
He was infuriated that the NFL had banned the use of the helmet he had worn since he had come into the league, clashing with coaches and storming out of practice over the issue. He even tried to paint his old helmet in an effort to make it look like the new ones, sneaking it back on to the field with him hoping that no one would notice. Someone did notice and it didn’t end well, unsurprisingly.
Despite more back and forth between the player and Raiders officials, the team went on summer break thinking that the issue was behind them.
Yes, I am pretty certain you have all guessed it, the Raiders were wrong.
They returned for training camp and Brown reiterated the fact that he was willing to walk away from football altogether if he wasn’t allowed to wear his helmet of choice. The Raiders had ignored Brown’s first proclamation of apathy towards football, presumably assuming that his unhappiness was aimed at the thought of playing with Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers.
The alarm bells must have been ringing at this point, as it became clearer that this was just how Brown felt. All of this played out as it was revealed that Brown was placed on Non-Football Injury List for a truly mind-boggling reason. Brown had entered a cryotherapy machine wearing incorrect footwear, resulting in severely frostbitten feet. He was sent to a specialist for treatment, but reports emanated from camp saying that Brown was not returning calls from Raiders officials and had gone off the grid.
Earlier this week, ‘HelmetGate’ seemed as though it was in the rear view mirror as Brown had settled on a custom made one. In addition to that, he had recovered from his gruesome foot ailment and anticipation was building towards the Raiders season opener against the Denver Broncos.
As the dust began to settle on a contentious and just plain odd training camp, the calm was soon smashed into oblivion. In the middle of the week, Brown, furious at fines for missing practice sessions, launched into a tirade aimed at GM Mayock.
Brown isn’t the first (and won’t be the last) player to challenge an executive, but in this case he was on the more extreme end of the spectrum as he threatened to punch Mayock in the face.
Mayock is a tough cookie and has repeatedly preached the importance of ‘character’ as he embarks on rebuilding on the Raiders with Gruden. If the alarm bells were ringing in his office before this, a siren was now blaring out of it.
Talk of Brown being suspended started to grow and if that did turn out to be the case, the guaranteed $30 million he was given in his contract would be voided and the Raiders could cut him without paying him a cent.
But yesterday, it again appeared that Brown had survived as Gruden announced that he would not be suspended and was expecting to have his star wideout at his disposal on opening day after Brown had delivered an “emotional apology” to his teammates that morning. However, that was not the end of proceedings, as Brown had other ideas.
Late last night Brown posted a video on YouTube that featured a phone call with his head coach, Gruden. According to reports Gruden was not annoyed by the video, but it is telling that he is heard in it saying “Please stop this (explicit) and just play football”.
By this point, it had become predictable that Brown would not heed to the almost desperate request of his coach and that predictability was confirmed this morning when Brown posted on Instagram imploring the Raiders to release him. Shortly after, multiple NFL insiders confirmed that the Raiders had indeed fined Brown over $200,000 and voided $29.1 million of his guaranteed money.
Later on Saturday morning, the Raiders granted Brown his request and released him from his contract, bringing to an end his short and anything-but-sweet stint with the organisation.
The Raiders will go on without him, with expectations tempered now that they don’t have a superstar calibre receiver at the disposal of Gruden and Derek Carr. Brown will now have to see if any team will take a chance on him, which may be difficult after what has transpired over the last year. The way Brown has behaved over that time makes it nigh-on impossible to believe that any team will give him what he wants in a contract, as it is unfathomable to think that he will accept a ‘prove it’ deal.
There is an element of sadness to this though, as it is easily forgotten amidst the soap opera that Brown is undoubtedly a Hall of Fame talent. Despite the messy end to his time in Pittsburgh, where it must be stated that he was not the only one to blame, he was incredibly successful as a Steeler.
Since he came into the league in 2010 he leads the league in receptions, yards and touchdowns. The man is a superstar, greatness personified as a talent. But none of that greatness will be bestowed upon the Raiders and he has to take the blame for that. He has spiralled out of control to a point where never seeing him play in this league again seems a distinct possibility. His ability will garner attention, but he has to change. A huge cloud of doubt hangs over that possibility though, as illustrated by his statement of “I don’t need football”.
After everything that has happened, it would be hard to describe that as just a soundbite.