The Patriots maintained their ties Wednesday to Antonio Brown, despite the disclosure that the mercurial star receiver apparently knew when he signed a $15 million contract with the team that his former trainer was poised to sue him in federal court over allegations that he sexually assaulted her.
The scandal has stirred new turmoil for the Patriots, who declined to say whether they were aware of the potentially explosive lawsuit when they rushed to acquire Brown within hours of the Oakland Raiders releasing him last Saturday after his tumultuous tenure there.
Brown, 31, has denied the assault allegations, while indicating he had consensual sex with his accuser, who has publicly identified herself as Britney Taylor. Through his representatives, Brown portrayed himself as the victim of “a money grab” by Taylor, 28, his former Bible study partner at Central Michigan University.
The NFL is investigating the matter, and while Brown prepared to participate in his first full practice Wednesday at Gillette Stadium — he wore uniform No. 1 — his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, said on ESPN that the seven-time Pro Bowl selection welcomed the scrutiny.
“He will cooperate with the Patriots, with the NFL, with any investigation,’’ Rosenhaus said.
The development, another blow to the Patriots brand, has caused the NFL to consider placing Brown on the commissioner’s exempt list during the investigation, according to The Washington Post. If Brown were placed on the list, he would be paid but would not be eligible to play for the Patriots, including in Sunday’s game against the Dolphins in Miami.
The question of whether the Patriots knew about the possible lawsuit before signing Brown became more compelling when Rosenhaus told ESPN the filing did not come as a surprise to him or Brown.
“Antonio and I had been unfortunately anticipating this possibility,’’ he said.
Rosenhaus did not specify how long they had foreseen the possible civil charges and declined to say whether he or Brown informed the Patriots of the potential suit.
Given Rosenhaus’s long relationship with Patriots executives — his clients have included Rob Gronkowski and Chad Johnson, among others who have played for the Kraft family in Foxborough — his reputation with the team would not benefit from withholding information about a possible lawsuit.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick declined to address whether Rosenhaus or Brown notified the team of the possible rape charge. Speaking to reporters at Gillette Stadium, Belichick said he did not want to expand on previous statements by Rosenhaus and Brown’s attorney, Darren Heitner.
“We’ve looked into the situation and we’re taking it very seriously all the way through the organization,’’ Belichick said. “I’m sure there are questions, but I’m not going to get into a discussion about that today.”
Reporters repeatedly pressed Belichick to elaborate before he abruptly cut short the news conference.
Later, quarterback Tom Brady, who indicated earlier this week that he had invited Brown to stay with his family at his Chestnut Hill home, declined to discuss whether Brown accepted the invitation.
“I’m not getting into all that,’’ Brady said in his regularly scheduled media appearance.
He also brushed off additional questions about Brown, other than saying he is “trying to get up to speed’’ as he acclimates to a new team.
The Patriots have a long history of signing troubled players, some who have become exemplary contributors, others who have committed crimes, none more shocking than Aaron Hernandez’s first-degree murder in 2013 of Odin Lloyd, a semipro football player from Dorchester.
The Brown incident poses yet another public relations challenge this year for the Patriots, whose owner, Robert Kraft, was charged with two misdemeanor counts of soliciting prostitution in Florida in February and whose safety, Patrick Chung, was charged with felony possession of cocaine in New Hampshire in August. Both pleaded not guilty.
The Kraft case is pending in a Florida appeals court after a lower court barred prosecutors from using much of the alleged evidence against him. Chung is awaiting trial.
Much of Brown’s baggage was no secret to the Patriots when they signed him. Before his highly contentious split with the Raiders, who voided his $30 million contract over his alleged misbehavior, he had multiple run-ins with the law in recent years.
In 2018, while a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Brown allegedly tossed furniture from the balcony of a 14-story apartment building in Florida, triggering a lawsuit by the grandfather of a child who reportedly was almost struck by the furniture. The suit has since been settled.
In January, he was involved in a domestic disturbance in Hollywood, Fla., although he was not arrested.
Taylor’s suit seeks at least $75,000 in damages, the minimum for a federal civil suit. According to her complaint, filed in US District Court in Miami, Taylor met Brown in 2010 during Bible study at Central Michigan University, where she starred in gymnastics while he was a record-setting football receiver and kick returner. They went their separate ways a year later, Taylor transferring to Louisiana State University and Brown entering the NFL, before they reconnected in 2017.
Taylor alleges that Brown first sexually assaulted her in 2017 at his Pittsburgh area home. She accused Brown of sexually molesting her again in 2017 and raping her in 2018, both times at his home in Hollywood.
The lawsuit contains two profane text messages that Brown purportedly sent Taylor. She alleges the texts contain evidence of Brown acknowledging the assaults, which he denies.
Taylor’s lawyer, David Haas, declined to say whether she had reported any of the incidents to law enforcement.
Officials in Allegheny County, where Brown lived in Pittsburgh, and Broward County in Florida said they had no report of a sexual assault complaint against Brown.
Rosenhaus described Brown as “a loving father of five children, including a daughter.’’
“Antonio takes these allegations very seriously,’’ Rosenhaus said. “He denies every one of them.’’
Heitner, Brown’s lawyer, accused Taylor of suing him after he rejected her request to invest $1.6 million in a business project. She operates the Taylor’ed Gymnastics Training Center in Memphis.
Heitner said Taylor did not disclose to Brown that she recently had been levied with a $30,000 IRS tax lien or that she planned to use $300,000 of the proposed investment to buy property already owned by her and her mother.
In addition, Brown’s lawyer said, Taylor continued to remain friendly with the football star after the alleged sexual assaults.
To the contrary, her lawsuit alleges, “Brown preyed on Ms. Taylor’s kindness and her religious devotion, casting himself as a person equally dedicated to his religious faith and someone she could trust. In reality, he used manipulation and false promises to lure her into his world, and once there, he sexually assaulted and raped her.”
The case has troubled some advocates for sexual assault victims.
“Any organization, the NFL included, needs to put their words, like ‘we do not condone sexual violence or assault,’ into action,’’ said Gina Scaramella, executive director of the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center. “Under our system of law, Brown has the right to defend himself in court.
“But the Patriots are not obligated to keep him on their team, and fans and community members have an obligation to hold them accountable for putting their values into action.”