In one of the most stunning moves since the tuck rule, the New England Patriots have pulled another one on the Oakland Raiders, quickly signing star wide receiver Antonio Brown after his release Saturday.
By heading East, Brown returns to a team that, like the Pittsburgh Steelers, is bigger than he is, an organization that follows its own code and pity the player who gets in the way, especially one who has been shown the door by two NFL teams in a matter of months.
Brown and the Patriots hope it will work out as well as it did with Randy Moss, who engineered his own departure from Oakland in 2007 when the Raiders ended up trading him to New England. He went on to catch 98 passes for 1,493 yards and 23 touchdowns in the regular season. Now an ESPN analyst, Moss spoke for a weary nation and advised Brown to “put up or shut up” with the Patriots.
“Every time in the last month or two that Antonio Brown has showed up on your phone or any server, it has nothing to do with football. The next time I see Antonio Brown showing up on my phone, it’s gotta be touchdown,” he said on the “NFL Countdown” show, throwing his pen for emphasis. “That’s all I want to hear from here on out. Football, football, football!”
Former Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi was fed up, too, at least with the comparisons between Brown and Moss, a former teammate of his. “It was all about winning football games (with Moss),” Bruschi said on the show. “That’s what it was about. That was what Randy wanted to experience. … It was about winning football games. Antonio Brown is different.”
And former head coach Rex Ryan? “I’ll coach anybody, but I don’t want to coach this dude.”
Brown will make the Patriots better, but the larger question is whether the Patriots will make him a better teammate. Is he going to be happy taking less money on a deal with only 0 million guaranteed (with his 9 million guarantee from the Raiders voided), one that is worth up to 5 million for one year? The upside to that? The chance to win a Super Bowl, to lock down Hall of Fame credentials. The downside? Just imagine the reaction if he does a Facebook live video of a Bill Belichick locker room speech. For all his cracks about eschewing technology and “My Face,” Belichick knows everything that is going on.
With the Patriots, Brown steps back into what suffices for his comfort zone. There are other receivers (including a Super Bowl MVP) on the roster, a no-nonsense head coach and, in Tom Brady, a quarterback who is the unquestioned leader of the team and whose favorite receiver is undoubtedly Julian Edelman. One former Raiders offensive lineman told Bleacher Report’s Mike Freeman that “everyone is happy he’s gone. We’re tired of the drama. Time for us to be a team.”
Drama and lovable goofiness is tolerated in New England, up to a point. For all the talk about the Patriot Way, Rob Gronkowski found a way to suppress his ego, fitting in and conforming when it mattered on the field. So did Moss in that 16-0 regular season with the Patriots. If it doesn’t work, and work quickly, Brown will be gone.
That brings us to Sunday, when the Patriots will open their season with a “Sunday Night Football” game against … wait for it … the Steelers. Brown won’t be available until this Monday, which is unfortunate if you like your football with a side of drama.
He’ll be watching somewhere and he’s sure to let everyone know about it on social media, just as he did with his “I’m free” video on his YouTube channel. (Yes, he has a channel.)
All in all, ending up in New England was the least surprising outcome of the whole soap opera that has devoured the days since training camp opened. If there are repercussions at how quickly it went down and the degree to which Brown’s departure and arrival with the Patriots might have been orchestrated (as conspiracy theorists are saying), the move isn’t likely to escape the NFL’s scrutiny. As long ago as March, the Patriots tried to trade for Brown, ESPN’s Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter reported, but the Steelers did not want to trade him to a rival. Now, New England accomplishes its goal and has to give up nothing in return.
As for Brown, he saw a bigger hand than Belichick’s at work, using “#GodsPlan” to describe the head-spinning few days.
For now and through what will undoubtedly be a spectacle when he arrives in New England, he’s pretty pumped up. But this is a team that doesn’t do entertainment and only mildly tolerates distractions. For all his talent, Brown has to know that if he can’t fit in with the Patriots, his options in the NFL narrow considerably and possibly completely.
“If he’s still the No. 1 receiver in the National Football League, now it’s time to prove it,” added Moss, who spent three seasons and part of another with the Patriots. “You’re with the GOAT. You’re with the GOAT head coach. You’re with the GOAT quarterback. It’s time to put up or shut up. I don’t know if this is his last stop or not, but he’s playing for one-year deals. I just want the man to play football.”