Over the past six seasons, Antonio Brown has put together perhaps the most dominant run statistically be a wide receiver in NFL history. During that span, he has 686 receptions, 9,145 receiving yards, and 67 receiving touchdowns. That’s the most receptions and receiving yards in a six-year span in league history.
Brown thrived alongside Ben Roethlisberger on the Pittsburgh Steelers. He was even an MVP candidate in 2017 until a late-season injury removed him from the race. That’s the kind of player Brown is, but the chances of him being viewed that way again have dropped precipitously over the past few months.
Sometime between Friday night and Saturday morning, Brown was fined $215,073.53 for conduct detrimental to the team per ESPN’s Adam Schefter. The fine allowed the Raiders to void $29.125 million worth of guaranteed money on Brown’s current deal, which he signed with the team only a few months ago.
In an Instagram post Saturday morning Brown fired off “Release me @Raiders #NOMore”. This all came after Brown and Oakland Raiders general manager, Mike Mayock got into a heated dispute over a separate fine that Brown posted publicly about on Instagram. The team planned to bench the star receiver for Week 1, but that decision was changed less than 24 hours later when Brown supposedly made an inspired apology to his teammates. Now, it appears like Brown might not even be on an NFL roster for the first week of the season.
This most recent string of incidents was all predated by Brown getting frostbite on his feet from not wearing proper protective footwear in a cryo chamber. Brown also threatened to not play when his model of helmet, the same one he’d worn his entire college and pro career, was declared outdated and illegal by the NFL. He made and lost two appeals to wear the old helmet before picking a new one. During these times, he was absent from team practices for several days and that’s when he began accumulating fines.
Brown is a hard worker. He went to college in Central Michigan and was only a sixth round pick in 2010. He wasn’t even Pittsburgh’s top receiver taken that year. The team picked up Emmanuel Sanders in the third round. Brown and Sanders walked onto a team that already had a Pro Bowler in Mike Wallace and a team legend in Hines Ward. By 2018, Brown was the only member of that group still with the team. He worked himself ragged to get to this point, that can’t be denied.
Yet, he decided to leave the coach, team, and quarterback he’d spent his entire career with. After going AWOL on the team near the end of the season, Brown demanded a trade. Not long removed from a four-year, $68 million contract extension, Brown was traded to the Raiders for a third and fifth round pick. At the time, it looked like the Steelers got the worst end of the deal. They gave up the best receiver in the NFL for two mid-round picks after all. The feeling in Pittsburgh is different today.
Through this entire crazy saga, I have kept saying to myself that the best thing Brown can do is play football. If only he could get on the field, then he could catch eight passes for 120 yards and two touchdowns and the whole thing would blow over. That seems to be the problem though. Brown doesn’t want to play in the system set forth by the NFL anymore. It’s more than just offensive schemes or new helmets, he’s not content with where he is in his life, as far as the football aspect is concerned. In the Youtube video, he released Friday evening entitled “THIS IS MY LIFE. AIN’T NO MORE GAMES” he told head coach John Gruden, “I’m more than a football player man. I’m a real person. It ain’t about the football I know how to do that”.
Regardless of Brown’s personal feelings or life situation, he’s lost a lot of money. Gruden and Mayock could not allow him to continue running amuck. If they did, it would appear as though Brown had more power than both of the team’s leading men. As the head coach and general manager, that isn’t a message Gruden and Mayock can send to the organization or the rest of the NFL. There is a structure in the league. If Brown doesn’t like it, then he might not want to continue playing.
Brown has already said he’s fine with walking away from football. The way things are going, it might be best for him to take a break and figure out where he is in his personal journey. Things appear to have gotten out of hand, but maybe Brown has some greater plan. Or maybe he’s just tired of having plans entirely. Either way, a divorce between Brown and the Raiders seems imminent, but Brown’s future beyond that is anything but predictable.