[Editor’s note: On September 10, Brown was accused of rape and sexual assault. Here is what we know about the allegations so far.]
Antonio Brown’s offseason was unlike anything in NFL history. One of the most accomplished receivers in the league had incident after incident, which led to him changing multiple, frostbitten feet, uproar over a banned helmet, potentially illegal recordings, arguments with management, and a second trade.
Here’s everything that happened to get to that point.
November 2018 - March 2019: It all started in Pittsburgh.
The Steelers were on the verge of transitioning to younger players. Le’Veon Bell sat out the year after refusing to sign his franchise tag, opening the door for James Conner. Brown was the lock to be the team’s No. 1 receiver entering 2018, but he watched as promising rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster stepped up and showed potential to be the team’s new star at the position.
Brown was still getting the lion’s share of targets and opportunities from Ben Roethlisberger, but reported years of frustration boiled over entering the final week of the season.
Brown felt as though he was routinely blamed when the Steelers lost, especially by Roethlisberger. This reached a tipping point on Nov. 25, 2018, following a loss to Denver. It was the team’s third loss in a row, essentially killing their chances to make the playoffs — and Roethlisberger publicly blamed Brown’s route running for the loss. The quarterback would later apologize for his actions on local radio, saying:
“I genuinely feel bad about that and I’m sorry. Did I go too far after that Denver game? Probably.”
Brown and Roethlisberger allegedly got into an altercation during practice, and Brown refused to play in the last game of the season with the Steelers still having a chance to make the playoffs. It incensed management and fans enough that it was unclear whether the relationship could be repaired. Brown requested a trade following the season.
March 9, 2019: Enter Oakland.
After a bizarre 24 hours when it looked like Brown might head to the Bills, it was finally Oakland who pulled the trigger on a trade
The Raiders, who had been shuffling deck chairs on their Titanic since Jon Gruden’s arrival, were in dire need of a No. 1 receiver. The trade-happy front office sent Amari Cooper to the Cowboys in a surprising midseason deal, ratcheting up the pressure on finding someone other than tight end Jared Cook and receiver Jordy Nelson to throw the ball to. Knowing Cook was entering free agency and Nelson would be 33 years old at the start of the 2019 season, the Raiders traded a third and fifth-round pick for Brown, which at the time was seen as a steal for the seven-time All Pro.
Brown arrived in Oakland saying all the right things at his introductory press conference:
“I’m here to elevate everything around me. I’m here to just be a surge of energy, of positivity, and good force. A great teammate and to bring out the best of everyone around me cause we all know it’s not just about me.”
It seemed like a match made in heaven, then things started going wrong.
July 26 - Aug. 3: Missed practices, burnt feet.
The Raiders opened training camp on July 26, but Brown was noticeably absent. He was placed on the non-football injury list to open camp, with very little being known about why Brown wasn’t able to participate.
Then Brown posted on Aug. 3 that his feet had been severely frostbitten after failing to wear proper footwear during a cryotherapy session.
Brown’s feet looked bad, but the Raiders downplayed the severity of the injury. Brown saw a specialist, and by all accounts would be fine by the start of the season.
Aug. 9 - Sept. 4: The helmet.
Brown had a new gripe with the league less than a week after his foot injury was revealed. On Aug. 9, Brown filed a grievance against the NFL for not allowing him to wear his preferred helmet, a Schutt Air Advantage he had been using since his rookie season, due to safety concerns.
Brown refused to practice without his helmet and continued to fight the NFL to allow him to wear it. He tried finding the same model manufactured later in the hopes it would pass NFL testing, but that failed too. Brown filed a second grievance, which once again failed.
The Raiders were supportive of Brown’s grievance, standing behind the receiver in his cases against the NFL — but finally acknowledged that there wasn’t anything that could be done. Shortly after Brown announced he found a new helmet for the 2019 season, which came with a fresh new endorsement deal.
Xenith is excited to announce Antonio Brown has chosen to wear Xenith Shadow this season. When you’re the quickest receiver on the field, you need a helmet that can keep up. Read more about why AB chose Xenith Shadow at the link below. #XenithIsBOOMINhttps://t.co/okPWeoDU2m pic.twitter.com/bNLlZvZYLi— Xenith (@XenithFootball) September 4, 2019
With a new helmet and his feet healed, Brown returned to the field and began practicing with the Raiders. But you know this story isn’t over yet — not by a long shot.
Sept. 4-6: Big fines, alleged slurs, heartfelt apologies, and secret recordings.
It seemed that everything was set and the drama was finally over. Gruden said Brown was “all-in” and announced he would be starting on Monday Night Football to open the Raiders’ season. Fans would get to see the player they’d been waiting on for six months.
Then Brown received a letter from general manager Mike Mayock, detailing that he would be fined for missing an Aug. 22 walkthrough, in addition to several practices. Brown quickly posted the letter on Instagram.
On Sept. 5, everything blew up. Brown allegedly confronted Mayock over the fines during practice, reportedly yelling at the GM and calling him a “cracker,” which Brown later denied.
Brown walked off the field allegedly saying “fine me for that,” and the possibility of being suspended by the team loomed. Suddenly the football world were asking whether the Raiders could actually cut Antonio Brown, their prize offensive player, just days before the 2019 season began?
On Sept. 6, Brown returned to the team and gave an emotional apology, which reportedly won his teammates back. ESPN’s Josina Anderson said the team captains stood with Brown, and Gruden was allegedly satisfied with the apology and expected to play Brown on Week 1. No suspension was handed down for the altercation with Mayock.
Seemingly everything was over and the beef was squashed — and then hours later, Brown posted this video.
The video, designed to tell his side of the story, featured a recorded phone conversation with Gruden. It presented Brown as misunderstood, with Gruden echoing this statement and asking him to just come and play football. The coach also questioned whether he wanted to be a Raider, which Brown confirmed, while also asking if the team wanted him. It was later revealed that Gruden was aware the video was coming out.
Despite all this Gruden was still excited to have Brown on the team and still planned on playing him.
“Antonio is back today,” Gruden said. “We’re really excited about that. Ready to move on. He’s had a lot of, obviously, time to think about things. We’re happy to have him back, and I know Raider Nation is excited about that, too.”
Sept. 7: The end.
It’s unclear exactly what happened between Friday and Saturday, but it’s a moot point. Mike Mayock reportedly told Antonio Brown they were rescinding his $30.1M of guaranteed money for conduct detrimental to the team, which prompted Brown to say he wasn’t going to play for the team and demand his release.
Shortly before noon the team announced it was releasing Antonio Brown.
The Raiders have released WR Antonio Brown from the team today.— Oakland Raiders (@Raiders) September 7, 2019
Also Sept. 7: The inevitable conclusion.
An immensely talented player with a penchant for being difficult to work with has just hit free agency 24 hours before the start of the NFL season. Which team could possibly be willing to take a risk like that?
Antonio Brown and the Patriots reached agreement on a 1-year deal worth up $15 million that includes a $9 million signing bonus, per source.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) September 7, 2019
Brown wasn’t signed in time to suit up on Week 1 of Sunday Night Football, which hilariously enough was against the Steelers.
The Patriots reportedly wanted Antonio Brown all along. They allegedly approached the Steelers about a trade back in February, but Pittsburgh rejected it. Now the defending Super Bowl got their guy, and this wasn’t on a league-minimum outreach deal the team normally does.
The appeal here was obvious. The Raiders were never going to be good, even with Antonio Brown. The Patriots are the Patriots, and the only accolade missing for Brown is a Super Bowl ring.
Yes, Brown surrendered $30.1M in guaranteed money from the Raiders — but his contract was for five years. In fact, Brown was set to make $14.6M this season in Oakland, and now he’s making $15M in New England.
Sept. 8: Tom Brady offers to let Antonio Brown live with him
Tom Brady sure seems pumped about having Antonio Brown and wants to make sure Brown gets started the right way. Brady offered to let his new receiver move in with him until he gets comfortable in New England.
Sept. 20: Patriots release Brown
The NFL opened investigations into numerous allegations of sexual assault against Brown, dating back to his time with the Steelers. There was no indication Brown would be suspended by the NFL, but the Patriots announced they were releasing the wide receiver and thanked him for his “hard work” while being with the team.