A little over a month ago, the Patriots were thought to have picked up one of the coups of the year when they picked up Antonio Brown following his release from the Oakland Raiders. Fast forward to today, and those who follow football have only two questions about the whole sorry saga. Were the Patriots hoodwinked when they picked Brown up, or did they just act without thinking?
You may have heard people – be they sportsmen or people you know in everyday life, referred to as ‘a loose cannon.’ In terms of weaponry, a loose cannon is a dangerous one; it’s as likely to injure you or someone on your own side as it is to damage the enemy. There may not be a more obvious loose cannon anywhere in sport than Antonio Brown. All the warning signs were in plain sight when the Patriots decided to take a chance on him. It now appears to be the case that the Patriots just didn’t want to see them.
There will always be a time and a place for a gamble. Some of the greatest achievements in sport have been the result of calculated gambles. A calculated gamble, though, is one where you have a reasonable understanding of the risks, the rewards, and the odds. Signing Antonio Brown was a blind bet. It was akin to putting money into a mobile slots game on website like LateCasino.com and crossing your fingers that a winning line would appear. Even that’s unfair; mobile slots games publish their’ return to player’ rate to give players an idea of what their chances of a win were likely to be. Brown’s talent is undeniable, but his behavior is too erratic to be predictable. If he were a mobile slots game, nobody would want to play him.
We don’t want to appear as if we’re denigrating his character without good reason, so let’s look at the evidence. His departure from the Pittsburgh Steelers was nothing noteworthy, but his short stint at the Oakland Raiders told a story about a player who was rapidly coming off the rails. This is a man who refused to play unless he was allowed to wear his favorite helmet. At one point, when it became clear that he wouldn’t be permitted to wear the helmet, he threatened to retire. No sooner than that matter was cleared up, Brown was missing practices. When he was fined for doing so, he posted pictures of the fines on his social media accounts.
Understandably, his new manager Mike Maycock wasn’t thrilled with Brown’s behavior. When Maycock argued with Brown about the Instagram posts in person, Brown is alleged to have responded with a racially-charged insult. Further press reports suggested that his teammates had to physically restrain him from assaulting Maycock. A day later, Brown would make a statement to the press reaffirming his commitment to the Raiders. Twenty-four hours after that, he was demanding his release in the press. The Raiders, probably glad to get shot of a player who was increasingly becoming a circus attraction, were happy to get shot of their problem child.
All of the above happened between March and September, without Brown ever making a single appearance for the Raiders.
What part of the above do we imagine the Patriots hadn’t seen or understood when they picked Brown up? Why, after seeing how high-maintenance Brown could be, did they decide he was worthy of a $15m contract with a bonus of $9m just for signing – on the same day he was granted his release by the Raiders? We don’t know. We may never know. What we do know is what happened next, and how much the Patriots may yet live to regret rushing into the signing.
By the time Brown was preparing to take to the field for his Patriots debut against the Miami Dolphins, the press was already buzzing with sordid allegations of sexual misconduct by Brown. Brown denied all charges, and the Patriots decided to let him take to the field. He played well, but the decision not to bench him while the allegations were investigated would come back and haunt them. Brown had sent messages which could be interpreted as threats to one of the women who accused him of inappropriate behavior. He was scorched earth, and the team had no option but to sever their ties. On September 20th, Brown was released for the second time in a month.
The theory of ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’ is applicable to football. Had the Patriots not taken a chance on Brown, somebody else would have done. If that move had worked out, the Patriots’ loss would have been someone else’s gain. We suspect that fear played at least some role in the decision to bring him into the fold, but in the cold light of day, more caution should have been exercised. Considering the allegations that Robert Kraft is dealing with, the last thing the Patriots needed in terms of media attention is someone else involved in the team becoming embroiled in a sex scandal. That’s exactly what they got, and it’s hard to say that they couldn’t have seen it coming.
Not only was the decision to sign Brown a mistake, but it could also yet turn out to be an expensive one. Brown’s Tweets since his departure have intimated that he’s retiring from football for good. If that’s the case, it appears that he wants one big payoff on his way out out of the door. He believes that both the Raiders and the Patriots broke contracts with him when he was released, and he’s launched lawsuits against both teams, with a total claim value of $61m. At the same time, it’s being reported that he’s deliberately slowing down the NFL’s inquiry into his conduct by refusing to provide information.
For want of a better phrase, Antonio Brown is a dumpster fire, and he was already burning when the Patriots found him. Why they decided to bring him into the house and get burned in the process is something we may never understand. Behind closed doors, we hope that it’s a question the decision-makers at the Patriots are asking themselves. If they’re not, they should be.