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If the New England Patriots’ release of Antonio Brown was just business before this weekend, it blasted into personal territory like a freight train on Sunday. Now the fight over millions of unpaid dollars will likely get only nastier moving forward.
With nearly all of Brown’s $15 million contract expected to be withheld following his release from the Patriots, a league source told Yahoo Sports the wide receiver will ask the NFL Players Association to file a grievance on his behalf in the coming days — with the intent of securing nearly $10 million in unpaid salary and guarantees from New England. That effort promises to lead into a suddenly very personal arbitration battle between the Patriots and Brown, after the wideout indicated that he not only expects his union to fight for him, but also took a shot at team owner Robert Kraft in a Sunday morning Twitter storm.
In one post, Brown tweeted a reference to Kraft’s still-unresolved prostitution case, stating “Kraft got caught in the parlor AB speculations fired different strokes different folks clearly.” The message included a photo of Brown with former trainer Britney Taylor, who filed a civil lawsuit earlier this month alleging the wideout raped and sexually assaulted her. Conversely, Kraft is still beneath the cloud of unresolved misdemeanor solicitation charges, stemming from a police sting of a Florida spa last February.
Brown’s cannon shot at Kraft comes after the Patriots released Brown and apparently alerted his representation that the team would not pay him anything beyond two game checks totaling $158,333. While Brown appeared on the field in only Week 2 for the Patriots, he practiced the majority of Week 3 before his release on Friday. A source told Yahoo Sports that while Kraft and head coach Bill Belichick jointly made the decision to release Brown, Kraft was “done” with the receiver after Sports Illustrated detailed a series of intimidating group text messages Brown allegedly sent to a second woman who had accused him of inappropriate behavior while she was painting a mural in his home in 2017.
Those text messages could end up being a significant point of contention for the Patriots as they seek to withhold nearly $9 million in signing bonus money and nearly $717,000 in remaining salary guarantees. With the union expected to fight for Brown’s collection of that money, New England will eventually be forced to make a case before an arbitrator that Brown violated the relevant voiding triggers in the contract. A league source told Yahoo Sports those triggers could include:
Standard NFL contract language in which a player must notify a team of any pending actionable issues against him prior to signing his deal. While Yahoo Sports hasn’t seen this language in Brown’s deal, a league source said such an entry is a “boilerplate” protection used by all teams and looms large in situations where legal cases arise from past behavior. Essentially, the language states that the player represents and warrants that he has not engaged and will not engage in illegal activity that would impact his availability to the team.
A “disparagement” clause that undermines the image of the Patriots. Yahoo Sports was sent that language from Brown’s now-void contract with New England, which stated, “If at any time prior to the end of the 2019 League Year, [Brown]: … takes any action that materially undermines the public’s respect for, or is materially critical of, the Club, Player’s teammates or the Club’s ownership, coaches, management, operations or policies then, upon election of the Club, the guarantees set forth in this section 27 will be null and void, whether or not any such guarantee otherwise had been earned in accordance with the terms thereof.”
The arbitration argument of these points will be paramount. And the Patriots may have a significant fight on their hands proving Brown triggered any voiding language.
For example, if the Patriots argue that Brown or his representation should have told the team about settlement negotiations prior to the civil lawsuit filed in federal court, the union could counter with the fact that New England kept Brown on the roster (and played him in a game) after that lawsuit came to light. In effect, the NFLPA could argue that by playing Brown against the Miami Dolphins in Week 2 (after the civil suit was filed), the Patriots voided any claims of damage they had stemming from Brown and his representation failing to alert New England about a potential civil suit.
As for the disparagement clause, the Patriots may have some traction arguing that Brown took “action that materially undermine[d] the image” of the team. That traction would be in the form of Brown allegedly sending the “threatening” group text messages to the woman who was a subject in the Sports Illustrated report. Since New England cut Brown after those reported texts — and since the texts occurred while he was under contract — the team might have an argument that SI’s ensuing story damaged the team’s image after it stood by him following the civil suit and initial report of sexual misconduct by Sports Illustrated.
Interestingly, what New England can’t claim is that Brown was “materially critical” of Kraft with his latest tweet. Why? Because Brown’s tweet about Kraft’s pending misdemeanor prostitution charges came after his contract had been canceled by the Patriots. With no contract in place, Brown is now free to disparage New England’s ownership or anyone else associated with the team to his heart’s content.
The flip side to that approach on social media — including the tweet that Brown already aimed toward Kraft — is that it will likely galvanize the Patriots’ stance that he isn’t owed another dime by the team. If the New England owner was already “done” with Brown prior to Sunday, his animus toward the wideout likely wasn’t lessened by a social media post comparing Brown’s rape and sexual assault allegations in civil court to Kraft’s misdemeanor prostitution solicitation charges in criminal court.
Whatever the emotions are at this stage, one fact remains: money speaks the loudest. The Patriots don’t appear willing to give Brown another penny beyond what he has already been paid, and Brown is insistent the team owes him nearly $10 million total for his 11 days on the roster.
Ultimately, it will be an arbitrator and lawyers who hash out which party is correct. Until that happens, the freight train of hurt feelings is bound to chug on, taking this very brief relationship to some personal lows that nobody could have expected only two weeks ago.
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