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The Raiders released Antonio Brown, but the drama may not be over yet

Brown didn’t last a single game in black and silver. What comes next?

Raiders GM Mike Mayock with Antonio Brown
The relationship between Raiders GM Mike Mayock and WR Antonio Brown is frayed.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are spending $21.12 million on Antonio Brown in 2019, even though he’s not on the team anymore. Pittsburgh was willing to sink one-ninth of its salary cap and lose the seven-time Pro Bowl wide receiver in exchange for just third- and fifth-round picks in the 2019 NFL Draft.

That’s considerably more than the Raiders will pay for Brown to not play for them this season.

Oakland released its prized acquisition Saturday morning, two days before its season opener against the Broncos. The move ends a tumultuous half-year on the West Coast that saw Brown clash with Raiders coaches and executives, eventually forcing the team to nullify nearly $30 million in guarantees before making the former All-Pro a free agent.

Pittsburgh didn’t get much of a return for losing one of the best receivers of the last decade or so. But the real coup for the Steelers was the quiet that came with Brown’s departure. After months of drama that played out in the public eye, Pittsburgh traded Brown to Oakland, where he immediately signed a three-year, $50 million extension.

The Raiders inherited the soap opera, and it hit them like a truck right before the start of the season. Now the club will enter 2019 with a massive void atop their WR depth chart, while Brown will join the reigning Super Bowl champs and headline a pick-your-poison receiving corps.

How did we get here?

Brown missed most of training camp due to frostbitten feet, while at the same time having a public battle with the NFL over his choice of helmet. He was fined over $50,000 for missing practices after he was healthy enough to return to the field and then threatened to punch Raiders general manager Mike Mayock in a “screaming match.” Via ESPN:

The Raiders source confirmed information from another league source who said Brown called Mayock a “cracker” and unleashed a barrage of “cuss words” during the altercation.

The details of that alleged altercation aren’t quite clear, though he was reportedly fined again.

Just days before the Raiders’ Week 1 game against the Broncos on Monday Night Football, the receiver was expected to be suspended by the team.

Less than 24 hours, that changed, when Brown apologized to the team and Jon Gruden said “the plan” was for him to play Monday.

Hours after that, Brown posted the following video on YouTube, which include a recorded conversation he had with Gruden:

In the video, Brown lamented being labeled as a “villain,” and Gruden replied:

“You’re not a villain ... You’re the most misunderstood fucking human being in my entire life that I’ve ever met. I mean I brought you here because you’re my favorite guy. I’ve never seen a guy work harder. And I don’t know where you are in your life right now off the field. All I know is you got a lot of things going. There’s a lot of people that have an opinion about you. And whether it be good or bad, you’re in the spotlight all the time.”

When Brown asked Gruden if the team wanted him to be a Raider, the coach answered, “Please stop this shit and just play football.”

The clip ends with Brown repeating the title of the video: “This is my life. Ain’t no more games.”

Gruden apparently was not bothered by Brown posting the video:

Gruden even signed off on it, which is good news for Brown: California is a “two-party consent” state, and it’s against the law for anyone to record a conversation without the other person’s knowledge.

And while that seemed to smooth things over between player and franchise, it proved to be merely an even patch of asphalt on a highway headed toward a landfill.

The Raiders cut Antonio Brown with few financial repercussions

In a theoretical quiet preseason, releasing Brown would have stuck the Raiders with $30.125 million in dead space for the 2019 season and another $15.167 million in 2020. But thanks to missed team activities and altercations with Oakland officials, those guarantees have been voided following a $215,000 fine for conduct detrimental to the team. Since the receiver voided $500,000 of his $1 million signing bonus by not showing up for 85 percent of the offseason practices. The Raiders could part ways without paying a cent.

With his financial safety net gone, the All-Pro wideout went from a starting role in Week 1 to asking for his release.

Brown told ESPN’s Jeff Darlington he changed his mind about being a Raider after the club “took away my (contract) guarantees. No way I play after they took that and made my contract week to week.”

Oakland obliged not long afterward.

Brown celebrated his release, and then hours later signed with the Patriots:

While that frees the Raiders from one major headache, Brown’s departure leaves them with still-unfolding concerns about the team’s WR corps.

Did the Raiders’ offense need Antonio Brown?

Oakland finished 28th in points scored in 2018. It traded wide receiver Amari Cooper to the Cowboys halfway through the season and allowed tight end Jared Cook — the team’s only Pro Bowler last year — to walk in free agency.

Only two significant upgrades were made to the offense in the offseason. One was selecting former Alabama running back Josh Jacobs in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft and the other was trading for Brown.

Brown’s release leaves the Raiders with the following wide receivers on the roster:

  • Tyrell Williams
  • J.J. Nelson
  • Hunter Renfrow
  • Dwayne Harris
  • Ryan Grant

Williams had 1,059 receiving yards back in 2016 when he was with the Chargers, but that’s about as accomplished as the group gets. Renfrow is a fifth-round rookie, neither Nelson nor Grant has ever topped 600 yards in a season, and Harris is mostly a return specialist.

While new starting tight end Darren Waller is a breakout candidate, he caught just six passes last season. The other option at tight end is fourth-round rookie Foster Moreau.

The Raiders reached out to undrafted rookie Keelan Doss, who performed well for them in the preseason but then was waived during final roster cuts. Doss decided to remain with the Jaguars’ practice squad until he was pulled away by a big offer from the Raiders.

Oakland is starved for skill-position talent and the only player on the roster who would’ve scared a secondary was Brown. If Williams, Nelson, and Renfrow can’t step up, 2019 could be another trying year for quarterback Derek Carr.