Patriots May Have Released Antonio Brown, But the Team Is Far From Innocent

Sure, signing and then cutting Brown likely won’t have any long-term impact on the team this season—the team has taken on risky players before. But keeping him on the roster amid accusations of sexual harassment and assault looks poorly on the franchise.
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Twelve days ago, I wrote that the Patriots could take a risk on Antonio Brown after he was cut by the Raiders not because of how the team’s past gambles on risky players have worked out, but because of how the team performed when past gambles didn’t work out. In 2010, Randy Moss went off the reservation and was traded, and New England finished 14-2. The next year, the Patriots traded for Albert Haynesworth and Chad Johnson on the same day, and reached the Super Bowl. Two years after that, the team won 12 games amid Aaron Hernandez’s murder trial.

The Patriots signing Antonio Brown and then releasing him 11 days later will become another example. This won’t blow up the Patriots’ season like it would other teams. In fact, I think there’s a pretty good chance that the 2019 seasons ends in a seventh title for them, and it’s a near certainty that they’ll contend for one.

But that doesn’t mean that New England should walk away from this situation clean.

The Patriots may not have known that Britney Taylor’s lawsuit was coming, but they did have an idea of who they was climbing into bed with—that much we know, because the rest of the NFL was aware of it too. Those in charge in Foxboro, from Robert Kraft to Bill Belichick and on down the line, have too much experience with these sorts of things to not be aware of the risk that comes with this type of acquisition.

The facts are the facts. Brown shot his way out of one of the most player-friendly environments in pro sports in Pittsburgh—one that’s allowed for big personalities and wayward souls—once the guaranteed money was up on his contract. He was a constant headache that needed to be managed there. It got worse in Oakland, from the cryotherapy chamber mishap resulting in blistered feet to the helmet flap to the confrontation with his GM and secret recording of his head coach.

That Raiders team, by the way, is run by two close confidants of Belichick, in GM Mike Mayock and coach Jon Gruden. If Belichick wanted information on Brown, it’s fair to assume he could have found an easy way to access it.

Instead he and the Patriots blew through stop sign after stop sign in the name of talent (which Brown has in abundance) and perhaps the pursuit of the one thing that has alluded him over his 20 years in charge in Foxboro (a 19-0 season). The signing happened fast, because there was competition for Brown’s services, and the priority was getting the player, not vetting the person, which was just the beginning of the problem.

The Patriots didn’t just keep Brown on the roster after a civil lawsuit was filed against him by Taylor; they rushed him on to the game field, and made sure he got the ball early and often against the hapless Dolphins. Instead of pushing the pause button, and not putting him out there for the world to see in their colors, he played 24 snaps, was targeted eight times by Tom Brady and got another touch on an end-around

Then on Monday, a story by the MMQB’s Robert Klemko was published, adding additional accusations, including another of sexual misconduct. The team responded by putting Brown out there on the practice field two days later, to get him ready to play the Jets.

After a follow-up story by Klemko was published overnight on Friday, showing Brown intimidating his accusers via text message, Belichick took to the podium and brushed off questions from the media as if they were probing his injury report. And, again, the Patriots put the receiver out there on the practice field, in those colors, for the media to see.

But this was different—the Patriots could no longer claim ignorance or say Brown wouldn’t be on the team if they’d known more or point to the slippery slope that could be created by setting the precedent of buckling to a civil accusation. The most recent story presented a smoking gun, which happened on their watch—and somehow Brown was still wearing the Patriot logo at the start of Friday’s practice.

Later in the afternoon, after looking into it, New England did the right thing, and cut Brown. But this didn’t happen before the Patriots looked behind every corner for a way to keep him, and that was for one reason and one reason only—he’s a really, really great football player.

The Patriots have made this sort of mistake before, to be sure. After they traded for Haynesworth, I remember a discussion I had with a Redskins official who said, “Bill thinks he can fix him, he’s not fixing this one. This is a bad guy” That proved prophetic. So as I’ve had similar talks with people who knew Brown in Oakland and Pittsburgh over the last two weeks, my radar’s been up. The Patriots’ should’ve been, too.

After all, everyone else’s has been. If this was the Steelers or the Raiders over the last 13 days, we’d all be absolutely annihilating them for this. And just because the Patriots will probably get away with this in the standings, doesn’t mean they should be exempt from that.

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