Antonio Brown is no longer an Oakland Raider. He’ll never play a down of football for the Oakland Raiders. He’ll soon be a New England Patriot. But for six months, Brown technically was a Raider. And they were six of the most insane months the NFL has ever seen.
Below is a timeline of the events that brought AB to Oakland, that led to his release, and that eventually got him to the Patriots – though if you’d rather not parse through it all, there’s this summation of the past month from Yahoo Sports’ Frank Schwab:
To sum up the madness, Brown (long breath) burned his feet in a cryotherapy mishap, fought the NFL over use of an outdated helmet, left the team while he threatened to sit out over the helmet issue, lost a grievance with the NFL over the helmet, was told his preferred replacement helmet wasn’t safe, complained about the NFL again, finally settled on a new helmet and reported, skipped enough meetings and practices to get fined more than $50,000, posted the fine letter to social media, got in a heated argument with GM Mike Mayock during practice, apologized after the Raiders threatened suspension, was told he could play Week 1, posted a video of a phone call with Jon Gruden to YouTube, was fined for the Mayock incident, was told his guaranteed money was voided, vowed to not play for the Raiders again, asked for his release, and was released on Saturday morning.
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Now, let’s retrace our steps even further.
December-January: Brown-Steelers drama boils over
Brown, a sixth-round pick in 2010, spent nine mostly prolific years in Pittsburgh. He accumulated 11,207 receiving yards and 74 touchdowns. He twice led the league in receptions, twice in yardage, and once in TDs. He made seven Pro Bowls and four All-Pro first teams. But late in the 2018 season, his relationship with the Steelers turned irreversibly sour.
Brown got into a dispute with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger the Wednesday before a must-win Week 17 game vs. the Bengals. Brown then reportedly skipped out on practices and meetings, and was benched by coach Mike Tomlin.
A couple weeks later, Steelers owner Art Rooney said it was “hard to envision” Brown being with the team to open training camp in 2019. Brown, meanwhile, went on vacation, and went radio silent.
February: Brown requests trade, bids Steelers goodbye
Brown requested a trade away from Pittsburgh in early February. Long before the Steelers agreed to any deal, and before the public even knew of the trade request, Brown posted a goodbye to Steelers fans on social media:
March 9: Steelers trade Brown to Raiders
Two days after a trade that would have sent Brown to the Buffalo Bills reportedly fell through, the Steelers sent their wantaway wideout to Oakland for a third- and a fifth-round pick. Again, Brown himself beat the NFL’s top newsbreakers to the scoop:
Brown’s contract in Pittsburgh had included $0 in guaranteed money. The Raiders reportedly gave him a substantial raise – up to $54.125 million total, with around $30 million guaranteed.
Late-May/Early-June: Helmet drama begins
Unbeknownst to the public, the AB-Raiders drama began in earnest at OTAs. Brown wanted to wear an an outdated, no-longer-certified helmet. The league said no. The Raiders said no. That led to unfathomably absurd bickering, the details of which would finally emerge in August:
7) This meant that Brown and 31 other players who finished the 2018 season on NFL rosters, including star quarterbacks Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, would have to switch to approved helmets...— Michael Silver (@MikeSilver) August 9, 2019
9) Each team's equipment manager had been instructed to remove all banned helmets. All of this was conveyed to Brown at the team’s training facility a few days before the start of Phase Three OTAs—the first time players are allowed to wear helmets during on-field workouts...— Michael Silver (@MikeSilver) August 9, 2019
11) Shortly thereafter, Brown stormed out of the facility in protest. Later that day, Raiders officials found video footage of Rodgers, during the Green Bay Packers’ OTA session, wearing an approved-model helmet and texted it to Brown...— Michael Silver (@MikeSilver) August 9, 2019
13) However, sometime in the next couple of weeks, Brown once again tried to take the field with his old helmet, which he had since had repainted with colors approximating—but not completely mimicking—the Raiders’ silver-and-black design...— Michael Silver (@MikeSilver) August 9, 2019
14) He was told the helmet was not allowed, and once again, he acquiesced and wore the new model. Before Brown arrived at training camp last month, coaches and teammates believed the issue had been resolved...— Michael Silver (@MikeSilver) August 9, 2019
July/Early-August: The cryotherapy mishap
Brown reported to training camp via hot-air balloon ... and then practiced only intermittently, in a limited capacity, due to what many were led to believe was a foot injury. That’s when the real weirdness began.
On August 3, Brown posted disgusting pictures of his ripped-up feet to Instagram. Four days later, reports emerged that the unusual “injury” was the result of a cryotherapy mishap. Brown reportedly had entered a cryotherapy chamber without proper footwear.
That, however, was only the beginning of the insanity.
Still early-August: The helmet grievance, more drama
While his feet were healing, Brown was also still feuding with the NFL over helmets. After battling both his team and the league over the issue, Brown filed a grievance in hopes of being allowed to wear his 10-year-old helmet. And he reportedly told the Raiders that if he weren’t allowed, he’d never play football again.
Brown had departed training camp, and at one point reportedly went radio silent. The helmet issue, reportedly, was the true source of his absence, not the ailing feet.
The problem was the model’s safety. Brown’s concern with newer models was, reportedly, obstructed vision. The dispute would go on and on, with apparent resolutions and then backtracking and more drama. The NFL Network’s Michael Silver quoted an unnamed Raiders source as saying of the helmet drama: “Honestly the most insane thing I have ever heard. I don’t know why it’s so important to him. It doesn’t make any sense.”
Raiders coach Jon Gruden was publicly supportive of Brown despite the absurdity. “I’ve got a feeling he would play with no helmet, that’s how much he loves to play,” Gruden said on Aug. 11. “The helmet thing is a personal matter to him. He has a strong feeling about what he’s worn on his head and we’re supporting him. We understand the league’s position as well, so we’re in a tough spot. And we hope Antonio is back here soon, because he’s exciting to be around. I’m excited. I got some plays for him, I hope we can start calling them.”
Mid-August: Brown loses grievance, returns to Raiders, then ...
On Aug. 12, Brown lost the grievance. He responded to the ruling on Instagram, writing: "While I disagree with the arbitrator's decision, I'm working on getting back to full health and looking forward to rejoining my teammates on the field. I'm excited about this season appreciate all the concerns about my feet!”
Brown returned to the Raiders facility the following day – and took his ongoing helmet search to Twitter:
"I'm looking for a Schutt Air Advantage Adult Large Helmet that was manufactured in 2010 or after. In exchange I will trade a signed practice worn @Raiders helmet."— AB (@AB84) August 13, 2019
As he neared a return to full practice participation, though, the NFL rejected his appeal to get the helmet approved. Brown responded with the phrase: “Super Prejudice unbelievable!” And he skipped practice. And the Raiders, for the first time publicly, essentially told Brown they’d had enough.
Aug. 18: Mayock lays out ultimatum
That same day, after he skipped practice, GM Mike Mayock spoke to reporters. No questions, just a statement:
You all know that AB is not here today. So here’s the bottom line. He’s upset about the helmet issue. We have supported that. We appreciate that, OK? But at this point, we’ve pretty much exhausted all avenues of relief. So, from our perspective, it’s time for him to be all in or all out. OK? So we’re hoping he’s back soon. We’ve got 89 guys busting their tails. We are really excited about where this franchise is going. And we hope AB’s going to be a big part of it starting Week 1 against Denver. End of story, no questions.
“All in or all out.”
Brown would be fined $40,000 by the Raiders for his absence that day.
Aug. 22: Brown skips walkthrough
Brown would also be fined for an absence four days later, at a walkthrough prior to the Raiders’ preseason game in Winnipeg against the Green Bay Packers.
Sept. 4: Brown posts letter from Mayock to Instagram
Brown appeared all set to play Week 1 against the Broncos, the saga having quieted down ... until, five days before the opener, he posted the following on an Instagram story:
Given all the trouble he’d caused, $53,950 in fines seemed paltry. But Brown, clearly, wasn’t having it.
Sept. 4: Brown confronts Mayock, calls him “cracker”
That same day, in a strange, conspicuously staged photo, Brown revealed which helmet he’d picked for the 2019 season.
After the summer drama, Raiders’ WR Antonio Brown has opted to play this season in a Xenith Shadow helmet. Brown believes the Xenith Shadow makes him feel more agile and comfortable, and allows for better visibility.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) September 4, 2019
RIP, Schutt AiR Advantage. pic.twitter.com/dNFWO9Z8QD
Also that same day, however, Brown reportedly saw Mayock watching practice and confronted the GM. That led to an argument, in which Brown reportedly called Mayock a “cracker.” He reportedly had to be held back by teammates.
Sept. 5: Brown misses practice, suspension reportedly likely
That expectation of a suspension lasted all of one day, until ...
Sept. 6, a.m.: Brown’s “emotional apology”
On Friday morning, Brown reportedly stood beside team captains and offered an “emotional apology” to the group. All of a sudden, he was back on track to play Monday night. Gruden confirmed as much at practice:
Statement from #Raiders HC Jon Gruden: “Antonio is back today. We’re excited about that. Ready to move on.” Gruden says the plan is to have Antonio Brown play on Monday @nflnetwork pic.twitter.com/UCq1n1JPUZ— MJ Acosta (@MJAcostaTV) September 6, 2019
All was well for about, uh ... 12 hours.
Sept. 6, p.m.: Raiders fine Brown
On Friday night, the Raiders reportedly fined Brown over $215,000 for his conduct two days earlier. In doing so, per stipulations in Brown’s contract, the team voided all that guaranteed money that had been such a major part of Brown’s move to Oakland back in March.
Sept. 6, p.m.: The video
The title: “THIS IS MY LIFE. AIN’T NO MORE GAMES.”
Nobody knew the story behind it. Gruden, despite seemingly being wiretapped without permission, reportedly thought it was “awesome.”
Sept. 7, 9 a.m. ET: Brown asks for release
In an Instagram post a little after 6 a.m. PT on Saturday, Brown asked – er, told – the Raiders to release him ...
Sept. 7, 11:56 a.m. ET: Raiders release Brown, Brown celebrates
... and he got his wish. When Brown found out, he sprinted out of his home, into his backyard, in celebration.
“Free! Oh my God! ... Let’s goooo! Let’s goooo! Ooooh! ... Free! Let’s gooo! Freeeee!”
Which paved the way, five hours later, for ...
Sept. 7, 4:56 p.m. ET: Brown agrees to deal with Patriots
A one-year, $15 million deal, per reports. Brown won’t be eligible to face the Steelers, his former team, in Week 1. But he’ll soon be a member of the defending Super Bowl champs.
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