It makes so much sense. It makes no sense at all.
The Patriots reportedly signed former four-time All-Pro Antonio Brown Saturday, hours after the Raiders released him. In one move, the architect of the “Do You Job” Patriot Way snapped up the league’s most talked-about player after he was deemed too much for the most dysfunctional franchise in the NFL to handle.
And it could work out brilliantly.
For New England head coach Bill Belichick, signing Brown is another low-risk, high-reward reclamation project in a career filled with them. For the all-star wideout, it’s a chance to prove he can be a team player after forcing his way out of Oakland and Pittsburgh.
Brown reportedly signed a one-year, $15 million deal with $10 million guaranteed to join the Pats, who also hold a $20 million team option for 2020.
The #Patriots 1-year contract with WR Antonio Brown include a $1M base, $9M signing bonus (paid $5M now, $4M later), $500K in 46-man roster bonuses, and NLTBE incentives of $1.5M for each of the following: 105 catches, 1,298 yards, 16 TDs. Total: $15M.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) September 9, 2019
While New England’s buy-low, incentive-laden strategy may earn worthy comparisons to Randy Moss’ 2007 emancipation from Oakland, another former Patriot could be a better fit. The wideout’s contract more closely mirrors 2014’s one-year, $12 million pact (with a $20 million team option the following season) for Darrelle Revis.
Revis took that deal looking to rehabilitate his value as a cornerback following a 2012 lost to injury and a fairly mediocre 2013. The future Hall of Famer ended up winning his only Super Bowl ring with New England. Though the club declined the team option it never intended to invoke, Revis still signed a five-year, $70 million contract with the Jets after proving he was still an elite defender.
That will be Brown’s goal, though his $20 million option is more reasonable (though still unlikely to be invoked) than Revis’s was. There’s reason to believe he can get there.
The Patriots have the cap space to make this a negligible risk
Brown is guaranteed $10 million this fall. That’s a big number, but it fits cleanly within the cap space remaining on New England’s salary sheet for 2019. Brown joins the Pats as their fifth-highest paid player and has the option to finish the year with the team’s richest salary outside of Tom Brady if he can live up to the as-of-yet undefined bonuses and escalators in his contract.
If Brown fails to pan out, he can be released with zero repercussions on the team’s cap in 2020 or beyond. This is a very possible option. Belichick has never been shy about cutting players once they’ve outlived their usefulness or failed to make the impact he’d hoped. Russell Bodine, acquired from the Bills for a sixth-round pick as the Patriots’ presumptive starter at center after David Andrews’ was placed on injured reserve, lasted barely a week before getting his walking papers.
There’s a massive difference between the Raiders’ ongoing sideshow and the French Foreign Legion camp the Patriots run. Brown pushed his boundaries in Oakland, leaning on the franchise’s less-than-strict culture — especially following the signings of Vontaze Burfict and Richie Incognito. That won’t fly in New England, which is used to assimilating talented-but-outspoken wideouts into their way of life. Moss, who set a league record with 23 touchdown catches in 2007 is the prime example, but a 33-year-old Chad Ochocinco was also mostly a model citizen in Foxborough.
If he can fit that mold, there’s a chance Brown comes out with more money than he would have earned in Oakland in this whole saga. The outspoken wideout was set to earn $15.125 million with the Raiders this year. If he lives up to expectations in New England, he’ll make $15 million with the opportunity to negotiate a new contract — and new guarantees — in 2020. Even after a tumultuous preseason, Brown can still make the money he left behind in California. He might even be able to make more.
Two surprising decisions allowed the Patriots to add two former All-Pros to their WR corps
New England got a surprising boost this preseason when Josh Gordon’s indefinite suspension was lifted, clearing him to return to a depleted receiving corps. But if Gordon addresses the team’s biggest hole — a lack of targets for Tom Brady — a contributing Brown makes it one of the team’s biggest strengths.
Brown can’t be activated in time for the team’s Sunday night season opener against the Steelers and may ride the pine for a few weeks as he acclimated to a dense New England playbook. If — and, given Brown’s past six months, if appears to be the correct word rather than “when” — the former Steeler and Raider takes the field, he’ll be a boon for Brady.
Two months ago, the Patriots planned on building their aerial offense around a receiver who does his best work in the slot (Julian Edelman) with little established depth around him. Then they added a field-stretching deep threat who opens up every intermediate route in the playbook with Gordon’s return. Now they’ll add Brown, who can line up almost anywhere in the offense and burn you regardless of the route he’s given.
So how would prospective opponents plan against that? Who gets double-teamed in a three-wideout set of Brown-Gordon-Edelman? When would you dare inch your safeties close to the line of scrimmage knowing the Patriots now have two different receivers who could toast you over the top, and a slot wizard who can fill the gaps they leave in their wake?
There are concerns, of course. Brown effectively complained his way out of Oakland. With that came a sustained absence in the preseason and concerns not only about his role off the field but potential rust on it. Even so, his production on the field — a track record of big games and consistent performance — made this a worthwhile gamble for Belichick.
While Brown is 31 years old, his 2018 showed no signs of slowing down. In 15 games he had 104 catches for 1,297 yards and a league-high 15 touchdowns. Even if his production drops off, he’ll still be a valued weapon for a Patriots team that looked like it hadn’t done enough to surround Brady with talent headed into the 2019 season.
The Patriots know what Antonio Brown brings to the table; in six career games against New England, Brown had 450 receiving yards and four touchdowns — the equivalent of a 1,200-yard, 11-touchdown regular season. Belichick is sticking his neck out for a very un-Patriot Way player because he knows exactly what he’s capable of on the field. After months of wondering how Brady and his cohort would react to Rob Gronkowski’s departure, New England found a way to add another All-Pro to an often-devastating aerial attack.
These gambles haven’t always paid off for Belichick and his team, but they’ve never cost much after crapping out. Brown will make a hefty sum to suit up in red, white, and blue this season. He also knows he’ll be watched more closely than ever before and that the runway he tore through in Oakland is the shortest he’s ever seen in New England.
This could be an amazing preseason win for the Patriots, but even if the signing blows up in their faces it’ll only be an M-80 instead of a rocket launcher.