Antonio Brown’s Future With Bucs Will Come Down to His Teammates, Says Former NFL Exec

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Philadelphia Eagles
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Former NFL Executive Randy Mueller weighs in on the Antonio Brown Vaccination Card Scandal for League of Justice. Mueller is no stranger to dealing with controversy from within the NFL. Mueller has been the General Manager of the New Orleans Saints and the Miami Dolphins and held senior executive positions with the Seattle Seahawks and the Los Angeles Chargers. His career in the NFL spans more than thirty years. Here is his take:

We all have some idea about how our legal system works when it comes to proving one’s guilt or innocence. Far be it from me to analyze the judicial process our country has in place to interpret the law, but having spent my entire adult life in and around NFL locker rooms, I do know how they operate when it comes to passing judgment.

Last week, the NFL suspended Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Antonio Brown, his teammate Mike Edwards and another NFL free agent for three games each after they misrepresented their COVID-19 vaccination statuses. For those who have not heard, a former personal chef, whom Brown owed money too, called him on the carpet for using allegedly using a fake vaccination card in order to sidestep his team’s guidelines and protocols that were instituted by the NFL and the NFL Players Association.

In the wake of the pandemic, the players’ union agreed upon protocols that mandated how team members would navigate daily in and around their buildings due to COVID-19. Brown, Edwards and free agent John Franklin blatantly misrepresented they had been fully vaccinated and as the NFL’s investigation concluded, spit into the wind of everyone involved’s collective faces. 

The three-week suspension, rumored to be as many as six to eight games before a behind the scenes settlement was reached for three, included a non-appeal clause, agreed upon between the accused and management. In effect, this was the legal equivalent of a “plea bargain”. Whether they broke the law or not is up to someone else to decide.

My concern, if I am the Bucs, goes much further than Brown just missing three weeks. 

Let me first say, I’m not surprised by Brown’s actions or the level of his antics. Last year, Tampa Bay took a risk not many other organizations were willing to take, bringing the troubled Brown on board just prior to their run to the Super Bowl. His baggage was both heavy and VERY public. 

At the time they acquired Brown, I am sure they felt the eventual reward clearly outweighed the risk. It played out that way with the Buccaneers earning their second Super Bowl title in franchise history last season. 

Having said that, the public opinion of Brown is consistent and loud and how they have come to their conclusion is transparent. However, the jury made up of Bucs ownership, General Manager Jason Licht and Head Coach Bruce Arians is another matter and their decision-making factors will be much less transparent. That group now must be concerned with their own locker room and the relationships NOW between Brown and his teammates.

Brown’s biggest trump card to date in playing this “reputation game” has been that he has had the support of QB Tom Brady. Remember, weeks before the Bucs brought Brown in, Arians said the team would have “no interest” in signing the outlandish and in my opinion, borderline unstable wide receiver who had been run out of Pittsburgh, Oakland and New England. Brown really had no viable options and it wasn’t because he couldn’t help a team on the field. It was all about the accumulation of baggage relating to his character and the history of selfishness that caused such distractions. 

Now, according to the NFL Brown has flat out lied and deceived his teammates, coaches and others within the Bucs organization by blatantly misrepresenting his vaccination status, allegedly with a fake vaccine card, according to his personal chef. The NFL has not come out and said a fake vaccination card was used but there have been reports from major news outlets that one was allegedly used, despite Brown’s denials. As a teammate, Brown’s misrepresentation would bother me. My guess is his respect within the locker room has taken a sizeable hit. The three-game suspension will come and go but these relationships and the value Brown brings to a much different Bucs team a year removed from their Super Bowl victory are now being evaluated by management. 

Brown has only played in five games in 2021 although his numbers and production have been solid. To this point, the Bucs have played more games without him than with him. 

His relationship with his teammates will be what determines his future in Tampa. While they now appear to be a shoo-in to win their division, the Buccaneers are still in a battle for NFC supremacy and home field advantage throughout the playoffs. 

Brown’s fate will not be determined by pressure from the outside world, whether political or media driven. Fair or not, NFL teams get to set their own rules (within limits) and apply their own “sentencing.” My guess is his actions have caused many eye rolls within the Bucs building. Some players may say nothing, but a faction of guys have no doubt spoken to Brady or have trekked upstairs to voice their displeasure with management. 

This is a team that brought back all of its starters from a year ago AND Brown was the last to re-sign. That alone tells me there was some trepidation by management before they agreed to commit to the mercurial player for another year. Word is, he was already on “double secret probation”. At a minimum, Brown’s recent suspension is a strike against the team’s fabric. There is now more doubt than the last time the question was asked last year about “is he worth it?”

The 2021 Bucs have faced some adversity along the way in their bid to repeat as Super Bowl champs but they have found a way to win without Brown. A new found running game and the emergence and ever-expanding role of RB Leonard Fournette has given them more options to win games than ever before. 

The Bucs situation with Brown is much different than the Green Bay Packers and QB Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers misled and some may say deceived those outside the Packers bubble but not his teammates and staff. My experience has been that teammates usually have each other’s back but in Brown’s case, I am not sure he has ever had anyone’s back but his own.

The Buccaneers have three weeks to gauge locker room sentiment and make a decision. There have been cries from the media, both real and social, who at times anoint themselves as judge and jury, to release Brown immediately. Their opinions will not count for nearly as much as the trust that Brown has lost in his own locker room over the last year and a half. The recent suspension has already cost Brown plenty in the pocket book. Let’s see if his recent actions cost him anything else.