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NFL investigators still have not secured an interview with Antonio Brown, despite the star wideout’s case now entering its fourth week, a source familiar with the league’s probe of sexual assault allegations against Brown said Tuesday night. The source added that the NFL’s probe will remain open “indefinitely” until Brown cooperates or there is a resolution to the civil lawsuit brought against him by his former trainer.
The source refused to characterize why Brown hasn’t interviewed yet, saying only that Brown is “well aware” that NFL officials want to meet with him before wrapping up their work.
Since being released by the New England Patriots on Sept. 20, Brown’s status as a free agent has limited the leverage the NFL has to force him to cooperate with investigators. However, the source added that the NFL can keep its probe open in perpetuity until he cooperates, or reassess its options to compel an interview if Brown signs with an NFL team in the future. The lack of an interview between Brown and the league was first reported by ESPN on Tuesday.
Antonio Brown’s NFL career remains in limbo
The NFL has been probing allegations against Brown since a civil suit was filed in federal court by his former trainer, Britney Taylor, on Sept. 10, alleging that the former Pittsburgh Steelers star sexually assaulted her on three occasions in 2017 and 2018. The source said the NFL is also investigating an incident of alleged sexual misconduct by Brown against a woman he hired to paint a mural in his Pittsburgh home in 2017. The source said that woman, whose allegations appeared in a Sports Illustrated story on Sept. 16, has been cooperative with the NFL.
For now, the status of the league’s investigation appears to have left Brown in a state of limbo with any teams that have interest in signing him. If teams require Brown to be free from investigation to consider signing him, the league’s investigation must come to a conclusion. However, the league’s investigation apparently won’t conclude without Brown cooperating — and Brown can’t be forced to cooperate without signing with another NFL team.
The league office has made certain that any teams interested in Brown know that he is under investigation and subject to NFL discipline or the commissioner’s exempt list the moment he signs his next contract. That much was made clear when the league issued a statement hours after the Patriots released Brown. The league’s statement said that Brown is not subject to being placed on the commissioner’s exempt list while he is a free agent, but underscored that he could become a candidate for the list if a team were to sign him.
The statement read:
“Antonio Brown was released today by the New England Patriots and is currently an unrestricted free agent. Our office is presently investigating multiple allegations, some of which are the subject of pending litigation. We have as yet made no findings regarding these issues. The investigation is ongoing and will be pursued vigorously and expeditiously. As long as Mr. Brown is a free agent, placement on the Commissioner's exempt list is not appropriate. If he is signed by a club, such placement may become appropriate at any time depending on the status of the investigation. Upon the conclusion of the investigation, he may also be subject to discipline if the investigation finds that he has violated the law or league policies.”
Did NFL’s statement tell teams to back off Antonio Brown?
One NFL executive told Yahoo Sports that while his team wasn’t interested in Brown, he understood that statement as a message of sorts to every NFL franchise.
“That’s [commissioner Roger] Goodell saying, ‘Don’t sign Antonio Brown. And if you do, we’re going to put him on the [exempt] list anyway,’” the executive said. “… I don’t know that anyone is really interested in him at this point with all this stuff going on, but that [statement] has got to make you think twice when you might be signing him and taking the heat for it and then he’s not even available to play for you. Why go through that?”
Of course, the league’s investigation into Brown and its statement about his potential unavailability is just part of the story. The other portion is the stack of grievances that he has reportedly compiled against the Patriots and Oakland Raiders. According to ESPN, Brown is preparing nine grievances against those two franchises, in hopes of recouping $61 million in lost salary and guarantees. As of Tuesday, those grievances still hadn’t been filed. It’s believed the process of sorting them out could go deep into the 2020 league year or beyond before it is resolved by an arbitrator.
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