Somebody who loves Antonio Brown — someone who wants the best for him in 20 years and cares about his football legacy — needs to have a talk with him, stat, because if left to his own devices, he’s going to throw away his legacy.
In case you were living under a rock, Thursday marked the latest dip in Brown’s traversal down the Terrell Owens Honorary Roller Coaster, a ride in Oakland that has been operating nonstop since Brown was traded to the Raiders in March for two measly draft picks.
After a bout of self-inflicted frostbitten feet and helmet drama commandeered headlines for the past several weeks, the latest incident could be the final straw. Brown reportedly got into it with Raiders general manager Mike Mayock via a screaming match on the practice field Wednesday, an incident that followed the team’s decision to (rightfully) fine him $54,000 for missing practices.
And now, it appears the Raiders are planning to suspend the mercurial wide receiver (or worse), and are preparing to play their Week 1 Monday night tilt against Denver without him, potentially leaving the Raiders without their best offensive weapon at exactly the time they need him the most. If Brown ends up being released for conduct detrimental to the team — a possibility, since it would allow the Raiders to recoup the nearly $30 million in guaranteed money they gave him via a new contract this offseason — it would sink some ungodly high number of fantasy teams across the nation and put a huge dent in the Raiders’ push for respectability.
In retrospect, perhaps Mayock and Raiders coach Jon Gruden should have known it would end this way. The fact the Pittsburgh Steelers — a team with undeniable Super Bowl aspirations — were so quick to dispose of Brown, one of the best receivers of the past decade and a man who is as difficult to cover on the field as he apparently is to reason with off it, for the pu-pu platter deluxe — third- and a fifth-round picks — was a sign this was never going to work.
Brown’s talent is so superior — his feet so quick, his routes so crisp and and his hands so sticky — that it’s blinding. That’s what hurt the Raiders’ braintrust this offseason when it traded for Brown, who wore out his welcome in Pittsburgh with an array of squabbles with teammates and ill-timed meltdowns that earned him a reputation as a walking, talking distraction.
Mayock and Gruden — with the latter being a man who isn’t afraid to deal with problematic players — gambled that a new deal and an offense custom-fit to Brown’s talents, one that almost guaranteed him double-digit targets every game, would be enough to satiate him this season.
Those hopes appear to be teetering before the season even starts. What we’re witnessing is an All-Pro receiver directly in the midst of a career-ending performance.
It’s sad because Brown, 31, should have plenty more years of good football left, years he’ll need to solidify his football legacy. His 837 career receptions rank 28th all time; his 11,207 receiving yards currently rank 34th; and his 74 receiving touchdowns is 35th all time. But there are 14 retired receivers who are not in the Hall of Fame with more receiving yards, receptions and touchdowns than him.
While Brown is currently on a Hall of Fame track — he is one of only seven current non-specialists (Luke Kuechly, J.J. Watt, Aaron Donald, Rob Gronkowski, Adrian Peterson and Bobby Wagner) with four or more first-team All-Pro nods — he could have a harder time earning his ticket to Canton than his aforementioned brethren. Not only will his overall career numbers be used again him, but his behavior will likely muddy the picture, even though it’s not supposed to (and yes, I’m one of the 48 voters on the selection committee).
For proof of that, all Brown needs to do is look at Owens, another prolific, diva wideout. Sure, Owens still got into Canton, but it took him three tries, despite having clear-cut, first-ballot numbers (1,078 catches, 15,934 yards and 153 touchdowns). Owens’ numbers, which all rank in the top-eight all time, blow Brown’s career stats away.
So, to Antonio Brown — or more likely, the people who love him — I encourage you to sit this man down and let him know that if he cares about his football legacy, all these distractions, all this extra stuff, has to stop. Because if he cares about his legacy (and one day earning one of those coveted gold jackets), he needs to keep playing and racking up stats.
Problem is, with every absurd drama the list of teams willing to tolerate one of the most gifted (but difficult) receivers of the past decade is getting shorter.
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