Buckle up for the 2019 season, Patriots fans. This is going to be one wild ride.
When Bill Belichick woke up on Saturday morning, Antonio Brown was still a Raider. But one Instagram post and YouTube video later, the Raiders decided they had had enough, and finally released the talented but temperamental receiver. Six hours later, Brown became a Patriot, signing for one year and $9 million guaranteed, with a chance to make up to $15 million.
Let’s break down this move and everything involved with it:
■ I’ll admit it, I didn’t think the Patriots would bite on this one. Brown is an incredible football player, but nothing about him fits into the supposed Patriot Way.
There’s no denying Brown’s talent — he’s a seven-time Pro Bowl selection, four-time All-Pro, and has gone for at least 100 catches in six straight seasons — but I didn’t think Belichick would want to deal with Brown and his antics. Brown became such a problem in Pittsburgh that the Steelers traded him this offseason, even though it meant taking a $21 million salary cap hit. And the Raiders just released Brown, even after giving him 17 second chances.
Brown broadcasted a Facebook live video from the Steelers’ locker room once while coach Mike Tomlin was giving his postgame speech. He skipped the team’s Week 17 walkthrough last year. He gave the Raiders all kinds of fits this year, first skipping camp because of a cryogenic chamber mishap, then because he didn’t like his helmet. He almost got into a fistfight with Raiders general manager Mike Mayock in front of the entire team. And on Saturday, he posted a video to YouTube that included secretly recorded audio from Raiders coach Jon Gruden.
Nothing about Brown seems to embody what Belichick likes in a player — selflessness, putting the team first, being reliable. Belichick has made a big deal in recent years about only wanting to coach players that he likes, and that he thinks would fit into the team’s “Do Your Job” construct. Belichick doesn’t want his players doing too much MyFace and InstaChat. Will Brown put down his phone and close up shop on the YouTube channel?
But the Patriots want to win a seventh Super Bowl, and there’s no denying Brown’s talent. Let’s just never mention the words “Patriot Way” ever again.
■ The Patriots are gambling that Brown will behave well and won’t pop off, but I guess there isn’t much risk involved, just money (and I’m glad it’s not mine).
If Brown acts out, the Patriots can just release him and move on. They still have a solid offense without Brown. And here’s betting that the contract has all kinds of protections and clauses and outs for the Patriots. They won’t back themselves into a corner with this one.
Brown could, theoretically, poison the Patriots’ locker room with his antics. But the Patriots have such a veteran-laden team, with leaders such as Tom Brady, Devin McCourty, Dont’a Hightower, and Julian Edelman, that Brown won’t have too much of a negative effect on the team if he does go off the deep end.
And for all of Brown’s craziness, he has always been known as one of the hardest-working players in the NFL. It’s why the Steelers tolerated him for so long.
The Patriots are hoping that competing for a Super Bowl ring will keep Brown motivated and in line. It’s certainly possible that he didn’t want to play for the lowly Raiders, even with the team bending over backward to appease him.
Brown seemed happy when the Raiders acquired him in March, but he knew he was playing with a below-average quarterback in Derek Carr, and on a below-average team. Now he’s joining the best of the best with Brady and the Patriots. Maybe that’s enough to keep him in line.
■ Assuming Brown does stay on the right path . . . wow, did the Patriots’ offense just get better overnight. A receiving corps that had plenty of question marks just became one of the best in the NFL.
They have a top three of Edelman, Josh Gordon, and Brown — the best slot receiver in the NFL, one of the best jump-ball receivers in the NFL, and possibly the best all-around receiver in the NFL.
It wasn’t long ago that Brady was throwing to Gunner Olszewski, Jakobi Meyers, and Maurice Harris in training camp.
Brady must be salivating right now.
■ Brown’s signing wasn’t completed on Saturday, so he won’t be able to play on Sunday night against the Steelers, which is such a shame. But I’m sure they’ll plug him in for Week 2 at the Dolphins.
And now the Patriots really don’t need to worry about Gordon staying on the straight and narrow this year, or Demaryius Thomas coming back from a torn Achilles’ and rounding into his old form. The Patriots have a top two of Edelman and Brown, two outstanding players who always suit up on Sundays. Brown has only missed four games in his last six seasons.
■ The Patriots now have seven receivers — Edelman, Gordon, Brown, Thomas, Phillip Dorsett, Olszewski, and Meyers. Thomas definitely isn’t all the way back from his torn Achilles’, but the Patriots will still owe him his entire $1.5 million salary since he is on the Week 1 roster, so I’m not sure if he’s the odd man out. Olszewski can return punts and be Edelman insurance. If I had to pick one to release, it would be Meyers, with the hope of getting him back on the practice squad.
■ Brown already posted an image on Instagram of him wearing a Patriots No. 84 jersey. Ben Watson, who currently wears 84, might get a nice payday out of this.
■ The Raiders have become the Patriots’ farm system when it comes to receivers. First they gave away Randy Moss to the Patriots in 2007 for a measly fourth-round pick. Now they gave Brown to the Patriots for nothing. The Raiders gave up third- and a fifth-round picks for Brown in March, but didn’t pay him a cent and won’t take a financial hit.
Moss agreed to take a paycut when he came to New England, and was a great teammate for 2007, keeping his mouth quiet and scoring a record 23 touchdowns. It also didn’t last long, with Moss growing into a malcontent and the Patriots trading him in 2010.
Now the Patriots are getting Brown for what appears to be less-than-market value. But they don’t have to worry about the future, since it’s only a one-year deal.
In theory, Brown will behave this year, play his best, then try to cash in during free agency. But with Brown, nothing is easy to predict.