Sports

Antonio Brown's wild summer

Forget Hot Girl Summer, let’s talk about Antonio Brown’s Hot Mess Summer, which in its chaos may have just led him exactly where he wanted. After nine years with the Pittsburgh Steelers, his relationship with the team turned sour and he had a rebound summer fling with the Oakland Raiders before promptly moving on to the one and only New England Patriots.

But let’s backtrack. More happened relating to Brown this summer than could fit in a season of reality television. The 2018 season was the breaking point for Brown and the Steelers, with his relationship with star quarterback Ben Roethlisberger deteriorating beyond repair. He was benched the final game of the season and finally traded (per his request) in March. He signed a new 3-year, $50 million contract with $30 million guaranteed with the Raiders, which was an important point for Brown. For several months in the offseason it seemed that the drama from Pittsburgh was over, and Brown, even with his “diva” tendencies (dyeing his facial hair blonde, competing on The Masked Singer), was starting fresh on a new team on the other side of the country. How wrong we were.

It started in Aug., with one of the weirdest “injuries” anyone has seen in sports. In a cryotherapy session, Brown wore improper footwear that caused frostbite to his feet, causing him to miss several Raiders practices in training camp. But the most random part came next: the tale of Brown and his helmet. With the growing awareness of head injuries to players, the NFL required all players to wear a new model of helmet which was tested to be safer. Like many athletes, though, Brown is a creature of habit and demanded that he could continue to wear his old one. After two failed grievances and a threat of retirement, he finally put the issue to bed on Sept. 4 when he announced on Instagram that he would be wearing the Xenith Shadow helmet, likely part of an endorsement deal.

That date, Sept. 4, was when it all started spiraling out of control. Due to his missed practices and absences from the team, Raiders general manager Mike Mayock fined Brown $54,000. Indignant, Brown posted the letter from Mayock on Instagram (which has since been deleted), leading to an altercation between the two men the next day. While we can’t know exactly what happened, different sources provided information alleging Brown called Mayock “cracker,” had to be held back by teammate Vontaze Burfict, and punted a ball.

Sept. 6 saw another heel turn. Brown apologized to the team and Raiders head coach Jon Gruden told the media that Brown was expected to play in the team’s first game on Monday night. It seemed that his teammates had embraced him and were ready to move on from the drama and finally play football, but less than a day later, Brown rerouted his path. On Sept. 7, the Raiders voided Brown’s $30 million guaranteed money, a figure that Brown valued highly. And so, as he is wont to do, he took to Instagram and asked the Raiders to release him.

They did. The internet caught fire. Many criticized him for losing the money he had wanted so badly, all for a $54,000 fine. Others cheered good riddance, while some mocked the Raiders for not even playing Brown in a real game. Nearly every trend on Twitter was about Brown and the Raiders. The others? Bill Belichick and the Patriots. Because everyone knew that Belichick could swoop in with his ingenious roster moves and pick up, arguably, the best wide receiver in the league. And that’s what he did.

Mere hours after the Raiders released him, Brown signed with the Patriots on a 1-year, $15 million deal, including at $9 million signing bonus. Gruden looked foolish, Belichick shrewd as usual, and Brown, well, he looked like he could’ve masterminded this whole thing. There are probably too many variables for him to have hatched this whole plan before he was traded from the Steelers, but some of his recent antics make more sense. The missed practices, the altercations, the bizarre mood swings — could they all have been to get the Raiders to release him?

The Patriots would have never traded with the Steelers. They are known for their economical roster-building, and ability to snatch up underappreciated (see, James White) or controversial players (see, Randy Moss) and turn them into huge producers on the field. But with Brown released, they could sign him to a reasonable 1-year deal and have the stability and power to cut him if he causes any trouble. Adding Brown to their receiving corps makes their offense dangerous, especially after star tight end Rob Gronkowski’s retirement. They are the Patriots, the biggest dynasty in NFL history, led with a strong hand by Belichick. They can afford to add a potential risk to their locker room.

One thing is clear from Brown’s subsequent social media posts: he’s happy to be in New England and ecstatic to be out of Oakland just one day after saying he was “excited to be part of the Raiders.” If only he could have played in the Patriots’ Week 1 against his old flame, the Steelers, but he will not be active until Week 2. That would’ve been too scripted, and for once, this crazy drama was all reality.