Star wide receiver Antonio Brown and the Oakland Raiders are at the center of one of the strangest dramas in recent NFL memory.
Brown is, reportedly, refusing to play — and it’s all over a helmet.
Brown has worn one type of helmet, a Schutt Air Advantage, for his entire nine-year NFL career. According to ESPN, he is threatening to never play football again unless he can continue to wear that model, which is no longer approved by the league.
The saga is, from head to toe, deeply strange and oh so unnecessarily dramatic.
But don’t feel sorry for the Raiders.
Because while, yes, this story is beyond the realm of our general sense of normalcy, this is par for the course with Brown, and the Raiders should have known that when they signed him this offseason.
NFL Network’s Mike Silver posted a long, fascinating Twitter thread about Brown’s efforts to wear the now-unapproved helmet. According to Silver, Brown, at one point, instead of wearing a new, league-approved helmet in a spring practice, opted to wear his Air Advantage, which was painted with colors “approximating — but not completely mimicking” the Raiders’.
The ESPN report claims that Brown believes the NFL’s new helmet requirements single him out and that different helmet models limit his vision. It should be noted that several other NFL players, including Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, have been forced to change helmets as a result of the new requirements.
I can understand a professional being particular about his equipment — we all have our quirks in that regard. But this is next-level: He reportedly met with the NFL for two hours regarding the helmet on Friday. He is genuinely willing to let his career die on this hill.
You should take him seriously: Brown claimed in an ESPN interview in February that he doesn’t “even have to play football if I don’t want. I don’t need the game. I don’t need to prove nothing to anyone. If they want to play, they’re going to play by my rules.”
Brown has made more than $70 million to date and will be a Pro Football Hall of Famer when his career ends. His finances and legacy should be secure.
But if he does quit over a helmet, he’d walk away from $30 million in guaranteed money and as much as $50 million overall, all while he was still one of the best players in the game.
That would be a bold and strange decision, no? It certainly could make you question if his helmet had been working properly over the last few years.
It’s important to note that Silver also reported that Brown has been late to several Raider team meetings and rarely focused when he did arrive.
Add all of this preseason drama to his unexpected foot injury — one that was reportedly suffered not on a football field but in a cryogenic chamber and had him leave Raiders training camp in Napa to see foot specialists — and you have an unforgettable hot mess of a situation.
All while the Raiders’ regular-season start is still a month away.
Training camp is a critical time for NFL teams — it’s a few weeks of focused work meant to prepare teams for 16 games. But in a league that treats “distractions” like a plague, Brown’s past few weeks have been a swarm of locusts, and that cannot be helping the Raiders’ preparation.
It surprised many fans when the Raiders were able to trade for him this past offseason and only had to forfeit a third and a fifth-round pick to acquire him. That’s nowhere near normal value.
But it was the best offer the Steelers — Brown’s former team — received.
Even the 49ers, a team that could still desperately use a receiver of Brown’s caliber, didn’t make an offer.
The rest of the NFL knew what the Steelers had been dealing with in AB: an insanely talented player who was a major problem for opposing defenses on Sunday and for his own team Monday through Saturday.
In Pittsburgh, Brown was mercurial and outspoken. He acted out when he had grievances, which, in his final year with the Steelers, seemed to be all the time, and with nearly everyone.
Brown, in that sit-down interview with ESPN, said that his feuds with the Steelers were “all about respect”. That same accusation is now being levied towards the NFL in regards to the helmet.
I want to give the Raiders the benefit of the doubt here: they had to know the risks in acquiring Brown. I guess they overlooked them. It seems, instead, as if they determined the opportunity to add a premier player at a bargain-basement price was too good to pass up. They’re a team trying to drum up excitement (and season ticket sales) ahead of a move to Las Vegas next year, after all.
So while no one with the team could have seen things becoming this peculiar — this melodramatic — this soon, the Raiders should not be shocked that Brown is at the epicenter of one of the weirdest stories in recent NFL history.
A story that has made the Raiders a laughingstock by proxy and threatens to hijack the team’s season before it started.