Tony Toe Trick? By joining the Patriots, Antonio Brown may have hoodwinked us all

by Jordy McElroy

After hearing the news of his release from the Oakland Raiders, a shirtless Antonio Brown ran around a fenced-in backyard on Saturday, celebrating like he had just been pardoned from a life sentence.

Never mind the fact that he had forced his way out of Oakland, but he also left $30 million in guaranteed money sitting on the table. 

How could anyone be that happy after losing $30 million?

Brown had taken us on a roller coaster ride through bizarre-o-land to the point where it seemed like he was all out of surprises. Five hours later, the news dropped that he had agreed to terms with the New England Patriots, and all hell broke loose. 

The reigning Super Bowl champions led by the most no-nonsense coach in professional football were taking on a guy that turned the Raiders locker room upside down in merely a few months. Not only was Patriots coach Bill Belichick taking on Brown, but he was also giving him a one-year, $15 million deal with a $9 million signing bonus. That $9 million basically recoups one year of what Brown lost after he was released from the Raiders. 

I’m no conspiracy theorist. I’m typically numb to the social, tinfoil-wearing trends of political drama. However, even I must admit, something is clearly amiss with the way things went down in Brown’s situation.

Sure, we could simply write it off as good luck for a troubled receiver, or maybe Drew Rosenhaus, Brown’s agent, is an absolute genius at the negotiating table. There’s also the chance that Brown is dealing with some serious mental issues and needs real help. 

Then there’s the other possibility. It’s the one thought that has crept into the back of everyone’s mind for at least a second. 

What if Antonio Brown staged everything to force his way out of Oakland?

One thing is certain: This entire ordeal has taken more twists and turns than a George R.R. Martin novel.

Obviously, the injuries Brown suffered to his feet in the cryotherapy unit were a freak accident and had nothing to do with the corresponding moves that transpired in the aftermath. However, the fuss about the helmet, the skipping out on practices and team meetings, the reported physical threats made towards Raiders general manager Mike Mayock and the public shaming of the entire Raiders organization should all be on the table. 

It has never been a secret that Brown was a diva on and off the football field, but no one could ever question his work ethic. Granted, his larger-than-life personality took a bit of adjusting for his teammates, but there was never a peep directly condemning him for not giving it his all when it came down to playing football. 

When the bright lights come on, “Tony Toe Tap” is one of the greatest receivers to have ever done it. 

So even after his fallout with the Pittsburgh Steelers, his behavior in Oakland felt too dramatic even by his standards. It was literally one thing after another before he finally asked for his release from the team that forked over a third and fifth-round draft pick to acquire him. 

“It’s disappointing,” Raiders coach Jon Gruden said on Saturday, after the team announced it was cutting the All-Pro receiver. “I’m really proud of our players, our coaches, our owner, our front office—we did everything we could to make this work, and I’m sorry it didn’t. I apologize, but I will tell you I am very proud of what we did as an organization to try.”

The Patriots initially showed interest in Brown earlier in the year when it was revealed the Steelers were shopping him around the league. However, there was never a chance in the Steelers shipping one of their all-time great franchise players to their biggest AFC rival. Unless Belichick put a ridiculous offer on the table, Brown would have had a better chance of getting traded to an XFL team than playing for the Patriots. 

So Brown ended up with an Oakland team on the upswing but still not in position to be competing for a Super Bowl. He knew the Patriots, along with plenty of other teams, were interested in his services at some point, but he remained trapped in a contract without an opportunity to freely choose the team he wanted to join—until Saturday. 

There are some individuals within the league that believe the entire soap opera in Oakland was planned with the Patriots being the intended destination all along. 

Belichick didn’t have to give up a draft pick to acquire Brown, and the Patriots are also in position to get back a compensatory pick in 2020 if its’s a one-and-done marriage. That’s the very definition of gaming the system, which Belichick has been a master of for years. 

But did Brown game the system as well?

He was informed a year in advance that his outdated helmet was no longer being permitted for use in 2019. Why not make a fuss a year ago? He had plenty of time to air out his grievances, while also searching for a suitable replacement helmet.

Yet, he waited until the Raiders’ training camp to make it an issue. He either knew what he was doing, or the Raiders really are just that unlucky. 

The only losers in this entire situation are the Raiders. They essentially forfeited at bolstering their receiving corps with top-tier talent because they thought they’d have Brown under contract for the season. Quarterback Derek Carr will have even less to work with than he did at the start of the 2018 season. 

As for the Steelers, you won’t catch them shedding any tears over anything Brown-related. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and coach Mike Tomlin were probably doing the same shirtless, celebratory laps around their yards after Brown was traded.

That organization has a long history of drafting great receivers, and they also have a true No. 1 to step into Brown’s role with JuJu Smith-Schuster. 

Then there’s the Patriots. 

A couple of months ago, some pondered if this would be one of the weakest receiving corps in the Belichick tenure.

Now, we’re talking about them potentially fielding the greatest receiving corps in NFL history. Brown, Julian Edelman, Josh Gordon, Demaryius Thomas and Phillip Dorsett—it doesn’t get any scarier than that. 

The Steelers made the smart move in forgoing the Patriots as trade partners, but it still wasn’t enough to prevent the nightmare from happening. A jaded Brown will now join forces with the greatest coach and quarterback (Tom Brady) in NFL history in a desperate attempt to set the league on fire. 

By sheer luck or grand design, that ominous quote could lead way to another barren wasteland season, where it’s simply the Patriots and everybody else. 

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