With Antonio Brown joining Tampa Bay, the Buccaneers are adding one of the preeminent receiving threats in the NFL — at least when he last played — to a team already filled with pass-catching talent.
But they’re also adding a wideout who comes with tremendous baggage.
Brown was suspended at the end of July for violating the league’s personal conduct policy, stemming from his January 2020 arrest relating to an alleged assault of a truck driver. And Brown’s time with the Patriots — which lasted just one game, resulting in four catches for 56 yards and a touchdown — was cut short following sexual assault allegations from two women.
It puts Tampa Bay in an awkward position, giving another chance to a player who’s fumbled previous opportunities. And on Monday night, during his weekly interview with Jim Gray of Westwood One, Tom Brady was asked if the addition of Brown would put the quarterback’s own reputation on the line.
“No, he’s his own individual,” Brady said. “Everybody has the opportunity in life, and again, I’m just happy that he’s got another opportunity to play in the NFL. … I love playing football, I know he does too. He’s joining a group of [receivers] who are extremely hard-working, extremely selfless.”
At one point, the 32-year-old receiver was one of the game’s most dominant game-changers. That was with Pittsburgh, where he made seven Pro Bowls and was named a first-team All-Pro four straight years. He led the league in receptions in 2014 and 2015 (with 129 and 136, respectively).
Even in his final year with the Steelers, Brown posted 1,297 yards to accompany a league-high 15 touchdown catches. But Brown’s relationship with Pittsburgh soured. The Steelers benched him for missing practice time as the Central Michigan product sought a new contract, and in March 2019 Pittsburgh cut its losses, trading Brown to the Raiders.
“Antonio remains one of the best players in the National Football League, but as we believe, this move was in the best interest of the Pittsburgh Steelers,” GM Kevin Colbert said in the statement. “We wish Antonio all the best the rest of his career.”
He never played a game for the Raiders, though. Oakland cut him shortly before last season began for conduct detrimental to the team — which resulted in fines and a two-minute video released on Brown’s social media featuring audio of a phone call between Brown and Raiders coach Jon Gruden.
That led to a one-game stint with the Patriots, which promptly ended after sexual assault allegations (the NFL is still investigating those claims and could suspend Brown further).
But now Brown is here, with his eight-game suspension for allegedly assaulting a truck driver about to expire. He’s a member of the Buccaneers, having officially signed Tuesday morning, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported. And he’s just another offensive weapon for Brady to throw to, joining Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Scotty Miller and Rob Gronkowski.
“I’m happy for Antonio to get an opportunity to resume his career,” Brady said on Westwood One. “He’s put a lot of time and energy into working on a lot of things in his life, and I know he’s excited to play football. Everyone’s going to earn a role on our team, and I know that’s his mindset, too.
“I think the receiver position is really a position of strength on our offense, and how Antonio fits into that is going to be up to him and the role that he can create for himself.”
Having Brown fit into the roster brings other questions, though; questions away from the field about the principles the Buccaneers hold.
Bruce Arians, the Tampa Bay coach, has already faced them. Two weeks ago, Arians received the 2020 Champion for Equality award from Women’s Sports Foundation. Arians has assembled one of the most diverse coaching staffs in the league, including two full-time female coaches.
But reporters asked Arians what he’d tell female fans about adding Brown, a player who has been accused of sexual misconduct by two women.
“I think you just let the court system do its job,” Arians said Sunday. “Allegations — I’ve been around a lot of players that have had allegations that weren’t true, some were — so let the court system handle it. If it’s found out to be true, he won’t be with us.”
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