Regardless of how things got to where they are regarding the Antonio Brown helmet issue (we’ll go through the timeline on Monday’s PFT Live and then I’ll write something up that points out every key development of the past week), the Raiders have drawn their line in the sand: Brown, as G.M. Mike Mayock said Monday, needs to be all in or all out.
So what happens if he refuses to be all in?
The Raiders could cut Brown, but they’d owe him more than $30 million over the next two years, offset by whatever else he’d earn with a different team. As mentioned when the issue first surfaced, at a time when Brown was still away from the team, the Raiders’ nuclear option consists of sending a five-day letter to Brown. If he doesn’t come back within five days, they can place him on the reserve/left squad list and shut him down for the year. At that point, he wouldn’t be able to play for the Raiders or for anyone else, and the Raiders wouldn’t have to pay him.
And if he shows up and misbehaves, the Raiders would have the same options under the labor deal that would be available for any other players who break the rules: Fines and suspensions, with the ultimate ability (after properly documenting the situation and giving him all appropriate warnings) to suspend him four games without pay for conduct detrimental to the team, which would also wipe out his guaranteed money for 2020.
The question is whether they want to deal with that while otherwise trying to build a team that is competitive in a difficult division with a challenging schedule. They could, in theory, try to trade him, but who would want to step into the shoes of that $30 million liability at a time when Brown is, rightly or wrongly, pissed off at the league and anyone connected to it?
If Brown responds in the desired way to Mayock’s bad-cop quote and if coach Jon Gruden can smooth things over with a good-cop vibe, maybe they can still turn this thing around. For now, that’s what they’re surely hoping to do. But if Brown makes it clear that he’s cornuto contento, the Raiders will have to make a decision that they’d rather not have to make.
For Brown, the obvious right decision is this: Pick a helmet and show up for work. He’s got more than $30 million riding on it. In the end, it comes down to whether he cares about that or not.