Nancy Armour USA TODAY
Published 3:31 PM EDT Aug 19, 2019
If only the Oakland Raiders had known Antonio Brown had the potential to be a colossal headache.
If only there’d been some warning signs that he could be disruptive or petulant. If only the Raiders had had any inkling that all those touchdown catches and receiving yards come with a price – and I don’t mean the two draft picks they gave Pittsburgh or the $50 million contract they gave Brown.
The sarcasm should be coming through loud and clear. Raiders general manager Mike Mayock’s frustration was evident after Brown skipped practice Sunday, but what did he expect? Brown switched teams and uniforms this off-season, he didn’t undergo a personality transformation.
“From our perspective, it’s time for him to be all in or all out,” Mayock said. “So we’re hoping he’s back soon.”
Brown was back with the Raiders for team meetings Monday, but those don’t require him to wear a helmet. Whether he’ll be seen again Tuesday, when the Raiders return to their practice facility in Alameda, Calif., remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, that cackling sound you hear is coming from the Steelers’ front office.
Brown is a transcendent receiver, no question. He led the NFL with 15 touchdown receptions last season, and his 74 catches since coming into the league in 2010 are the most by any active player. Last year was his sixth consecutive season with 100 or more catches, and he’s twice led the NFL in receiving yards.
He’s a seven-time Pro Bowler, and has played 15 or more games in all but three seasons.
But there’s a reason the Steelers were happy to get rid of such a spectacular talent. The missed meetings. The showdowns with the coaching staff. The social media shade. The squabbling with Ben Roethlisberger – not an upstanding citizen himself, mind you, but still.
“Antonio remains one of the best players in the National Football League, but as we believe, this move was in the best interest of the Pittsburgh Steelers,” Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said after the March trade.
None of this was a secret.
And yet the Raiders went ahead and got him, anyway.
No doubt Mayock and Jon Gruden believed a change of scenery would help. That Brown would benefit from an offensive-minded head coach. That, regardless of the blaring sirens and flashing red warning lights, their “fleecing” of the Steelers made Brown worth the risk.
But anyone with any sense of history, or sense period, could see it wasn’t a question of if there’d be drama with AB but when. Brown’s ill-fated experiment with cryotherapy and required helmet switch might have accelerated this dumpster fire, but it was bound to happen.
Tell me again who got played in the deal.
As for Brown, agent Drew Rosenhaus was at his earnest best in an appearance on ESPN’s Get Up! earlier Monday in defending the receiver’s petulance over not being able to wear his beloved, outdated helmet.
“He gets hit across the middle, he’s a big target,” Rosenhaus said. “This is his life. He’s risking everything. He’s got a family. He’s had a concussion before. This helmet has kept him safe. He’s had brutal hits. We’re just trying to find a way to work it out.”
Let’s remember that no helmet prevents concussions or the repetitive head trauma that can cause neurodegenerative diseases like chronic traumatic encephalopathy. It’s physiologically impossible.
That said, the helmet change was not sprung on Brown last week. The NFL and NFLPA have been adamant – and transparent – in recent seasons that players are not allowed to wear helmets not certified by the National Operating Commission on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE).
NOCSAE won’t certify helmets that are 10 years old or older. Brown’s Schutt AiR Advantage was discontinued in 2011, and the version he’d been wearing was manufactured before that. The math is pretty straightforward.
“We understand the club’s frustration, we understand they want Antonio back,” Rosenhaus said. “We get all of that. Everyone, please understand that he wants to be there. It is difficult to practice, take hits with a piece of equipment he’s never used before.”
It’s not as if Brown is the first player to experience this, though. No less than Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees have had to switch helmets, and all managed to adapt without drama.
But regardless of what helmet or uniform he’s wearing, Brown is never going to be drama-free. If Mayock and the Raiders are just figuring that out, well, that’s their fault. That that’s just occurring to Mayock and the Raiders shows they forgot the cardinal rule when doing deals:
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.
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