ALAMEDA, Calif.—Randy Moss. Josh Gordon. And now Antonio Brown.
A dozen years after Bill Belichick took a chance on Moss when the talented but troubled diva had worn out his welcome in Oakland, the Patriots picked up Brown on Sept. 7 hours after he was released by the Raiders without ever playing a game for them.
Brown’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus, confirmed to The Associated Press that the four-time All-Pro receiver has agreed to terms with New England, going from the NFL’s cellar to the defending Super Bowl champions despite talking and tweeting his way out of two teams in one offseason.
Brown had been scheduled to earn up to $50 million from Oakland over the three-year deal. Instead, the Patriots guaranteed him $9 million this season, with the potential to earn as much as $15 million.
If Brown can behave, he would make up for the loss of tight end Rob Gronkowski, who retired at the age of 29. After the signing was reported, New England became the oddsmakers’ favorite to win the Super Bowl.
A Patriots spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The deal was first reported by ESPN, and it became Instagram official minutes later when Brown posted a photoshopped picture of himself in a Patriots uniform. The post was soon liked by New England receiver Julian Edelman, who already was sharing quarterback Tom Brady’s attention with one troublemaking receiver, Josh Gordon.
But Belichick has a history of gambling on other teams’ problems—or at least bringing them in at little cost—to give them a second, third or fourth chance.
In 2007, the Patriots acquired Moss after both Minnesota and Oakland tired of his attitude. He caught an NFL-record 23 touchdown passes in his first season and gave New England three straight seasons of 1,000 receiving yards to rehabilitate a career that landed him in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Belichick also took a chance in 2004 on running back Corey Dillon, who had fallen out of favor in Cincinnati; he ran for 1,635 yards and helped New England win its third Super Bowl in four seasons. (Some other moves, like Albert Haynesworth, didn’t work out.)
Gordon dragged Cleveland through a series of suspensions before the Browns traded him to the Patriots last September. Belichick was rewarded with 40 catches for 720 yards and three touchdowns before Gordon was suspended Dec. 20 for violating the league’s drug policy.
New England opens the season against the Steelers on Sunday night, when the Patriots will raise their sixth Super Bowl championship banner. Brown is not eligible to be officially signed until Monday, but even his presence on the Patriots’ sideline adds a new wrinkle to his tumultuous tenure in Pittsburgh.
A four-time All-Pro who caught 837 passes over nine seasons with the Steelers, the team tired of Brown’s antics and traded him to Oakland in March. But he never made it onto the field in a Raiders uniform.
Instead of providing them with a marquee star in their final season in Oakland before moving to Las Vegas, Brown gave them months of headaches, from a bizarre foot injury to a fight over his helmet to the blowups this week that ended his career there before it began.
The Raiders granted the disgruntled but talented receiver his Saturday morning, two days before their season opener.
“We just exhausted everything,” coach Jon Gruden. “We tried every way possible to make it work. All I’m going to say is, it’s disappointing.”
Brown asked for the release after he was upset about his latest team fine over an outburst during practice at general manager Mike Mayock. That fine allowed the Raiders to void more than $29 million in guarantees over the next two years in Brown’s contract if he wasn’t on the team.
The Raiders traded two mid-round draft picks to Pittsburgh for the game’s most prolific receiver and gave him a three-year contract worth $50.1 million that now is void; Brown could still file a grievance to recover the guaranteed money.
The moves on Saturday follow a week in which Brown posted a letter on social media detailing $54,000 in fines for missing team activities. (ESPN reported that he would be fined $215,073 for conduct detrimental to the team.)
Brown was banished for one day, then returned to the team and apologized in a meeting and in a brief public statement. Gruden said the plan was for Brown to play in the opener Monday night against Denver, but that changed after Brown requested and was granted his release.
“It’s been crazy,” Oakland receiver Tyrell Williams said. “We feel how everybody else feels. It’s been wild, it’s been crazy, it’s been unexpected. But we’re going to go out there and play regardless. He made that decision. We’re going to go out there and play how we’re going to play.”
The Raiders had been counting on Brown to spark an offense that lacked playmakers a year ago. Brown had 686 catches and 9,145 yards receiving the past six seasons in Pittsburgh, the best marks ever for a receiver in a six-year span.
But now they must move on without him.
“It’s been an emotional thing for me,” Gruden said. “I was very hopeful about what he could bring here. Unfortunately, it’s not going to happen. He’s a good guy. He’s misunderstood by a lot of people but he’s a good guy, a great player and I hope he gets what he’s looking for.”
By Josh Dubow