Rami’s Roundup: Imagine Antonio Brown’s Impact Without the Setbacks

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

What if?

“What if?” Is a question we come across quite often in sports. We most often see this with crucial plays in a big moment that winds up shaping franchises for years to come.

What if Drew Bledsoe doesn’t get hurt, do we still get Brady?

What if Dave Roberts was out at second, are the Red Sox still searching for that elusive World Series title?

What if Derrick Rose never got hurt?

What if Len Bias made it to the league before passing tragically?

Today another “what if?” may have been cemented in the history books, and it may be the most puzzling one yet. Of course, I am talking about Antonio Brown. Brown’s career started in Pittsburgh with “Big” Ben Rothlisburegr and Mike Tomlin. In his first full season in 2011, he made his presence felt racking up over 1,100 receiving yards. It wasn’t until 2013 when Brown went from a good receiver to one of the greatest ever. Over a span of six seasons from 2013-2018 Brown would eclipse 100 catches, 1,200 yards, and 8 TDs each of six seasons. His totals over that span included 686 catches, 9,145 yards, and 67 TDs.

Despite being widely considered the best WR in football, and already have put together a Hall of Fame-caliber resume, things were not always smooth between him and the Steelers organization. The rumors of difficulty were confirmed late in 2018. In the final game of the 2018 season, Brown was benched for an altercation with a teammate in practice. After the conclusion of the season, Brown met with Steelers ownership and both sides agreed to mutually part ways and the team would work to find Brown a new home.

Thus began the Antonio Brown Sweepstakes. While all teams were interested in trading for a transcendent talent who was obviously still at the peak of his prime, the fear of friction with an organization like the Steelers and a prominent head coach in Mike Tomlin hurt his trade value.

Ultimately it was the Raiders who would assume this risk, as new head coach and GM Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock were determined to “make a splash” in their return to football (just the first of their many missteps) and made the trade for the disgruntled wideout in March of 2019. All it took was two mid-round draft picks (a third and a fifth), a price that would have been considered a steal for a player of Brown’s caliber.

The relationship between Brown and the Raiders got off to an immediate horrendous start. In July, Brown missed OTAs due to a non-football related injury after he got frostbite on his feet from cryotherapy. When training camp rolled along in August, Brown’s latest and greatest grievance was over a helmet dispute. This time both Mayock and Gruden tried to find a helmet that would both comply with the league’s rules and fulfill Brown’s desires.

After over a month of headlines and distractions, the final straw was Brown posting a recording of a private conversation between him and Gruden on social media. The Raiders had had enough and released the receiver on September 7th, 2019. Brown took to Instagram to celebrate. It was at that time that the conspiracy theories first started arising from Brown’s supporters. Some claimed the Steelers had opportunities to trade him to a better situation and chose not to.

On September 9th, the Patriots signed Brown to a one-year deal worth up to $15 Million, only two days after his release from the Raiders. Surely the legendary combination of Brady and Belichick would bring Antonio in and help get him back on track.

The very next day Brown’s ex-trainer accused Brown of sexual assault. Five days after that two more reports of sexual misconduct were reported by Sports Illustrated. On September 20th, the Pats released Brown, his career in New England lasted only 1 game and only 11 days.

This only infuriated Brown more as he claimed the league was “out to get him”. The NFL season was underway and the league’s premier receiver remained sidelined. In January of 2020, Brown was back on Instagram this time recording a live video of his altercation with law enforcement, and his children’s mother. Two weeks later, Brown was charged with felony burglary with battery and two misdemeanors for an incident involving a moving truck company. Brown pleaded no contest and did not receive jail time.

The narratives surrounding Brown shifted to a major concern for his well-being both physically and emotionally. The league’s long history with head trauma and CTE caused many to believe that Brown may have been suffering from these conditions. Veteran and former NFL players were determined to get Brown the help he needed. Brown’s legendary playing career became a distant memory, as concerns surrounding his health moved to the forefront of people’s minds.

In July of 2020, as the league prepared for its most difficult season, Brown remained unsigned. The NFL however announced that Brown would be suspended 8 games for violating multiple personal conduct policies.

Once eligible to play it was Tom Brady again who wanted to take a chance on the former superstar, this time in Tampa Bay. Bucs head coach Bruce Arians made it clear that at the sign of the first misstep, Brown would be gone. Brady brought Brown into his home and was determined to help rehabilitate his image and career.

Over the course of his 8 games, Brown started to look like the player we had come accustomed to seeing in Pittsburgh. The Bucs would go on to win the Super Bowl and in the game Brown caught five passes, one for a touchdown, helping the team win the championship. Brown’s image had been repaired, his hardships were in the past, and he seemed primed to return to his old ways as one of the league’s premier receivers.

In the offseason, Brown signed another one-year deal with the Bucs. With a full training camp and preseason Brown took his game to another level. Over the Bucs first 5 games, Brown tallied 29 catches for 418 yards and 4 TDs. Not only were the numbers there but he looked like the unstoppable threat he was with the Steelers. Antonio Brown was back!

After an injury cost Brown some time, an allegation was made that Brown had presented a fake vaccination card. Although he denied it, Brown was suspended 3 games for violating NFL-NFLPA Covid-19 Protocols. Brown was eligible to return in late December, however, this put Arians in a peculiar situation. He said he would cut Brown loose at the first sign of trouble, but Brown was now a significant contributor to the offense. Not only that, but star receiver Chris Godwin sustained a season-ending injury.

The Anti-Antonio crowd was not happy. Why was this guy getting yet another chance? Being a professional athlete is a privilege. At what point does a guy relinquish this privilege? We’ve seen players lose this privilege for less. The overwhelming evidence has shown that as long as an athlete has more to offer he will keep getting opportunity after opportunity no matter how many times he messes up.

Sure enough Brown had plenty more to offer. In his first game back from the suspension, Brown caught 10 passes for 101 yards and looked as good as ever. Arians would continue to fend off the media and defend his reborn star. Brown, however, had some choice words for the media, claiming again that the media was out to get him and fabricating negative stories designed to hurt him.

This all brings us to Sunday, January 2nd, 2022. The Bucs were in New Jersey to face the Jets. Brown was off to a good start with three early catches. But then in the third quarter with the heavily favored Bucs trailing the Jets 24-10, an altercation occurred on the Bucs bench. Brown seemed to have been upset by something and removed his jersey, pads, and undershirt, tossing his shirt and gloves into the crowd before jogging across the field shirtless into the tunnel waving to the crowd as he ran off.

When asked about the incident after the game, Coach Arians simply said, “Antonio’s no longer Buc”. He later said that he asked Brown to enter the game twice and when Brown refused he told him to leave. No other details have emerged. Perhaps had he left quietly, without the antics, he would still be a Buc, which would have been wise as he was only 3 catches, 55 yards, and 1 TD away from a 1 million dollar bonus.

The team plane flew south without Brown, marking the first time a team’s plane left a road game without a member of the team on board. Antonio Brown took to Instagram with more cryptic pictures and quotes and a new song he released. Rumors are circulating again, more details will surely emerge in the coming days, but as of now this seems to be the last we may see of the one-time great wide receiver.

As I said, talent trumps all. Maybe someone else will take a flyer on Brown, but for now, he is another what if. The talent is still there.

What if he had not left the Steelers?

What if he had not missed the entire 2019 season?

What if he had not missed parts of the 2020 and 2021 seasons?

Brown has not only lost valuable time, but he has also tarnished his name and his legacy.

But what if he hadn’t?