Tom Brady got his way on Antonio Brown.
The six-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback has demonstrated his support for Brown, the talented and productive wide receiver with the long list of off-field issues and team disruptions, since the two were teammates for a single game last season with the New England Patriots. Brady even issued an invitation last year for Brown to stay at his house.
With Brady at a new address these days and trying to lead the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a Super Bowl appearance on their home field, his fingerprints are all over their addition of Brown as the wideout’s eight-game suspension by the NFL expires — and over the wariness previously expressed by Coach Bruce Arians.
So now it’s on Brady to make it work.
The Buccaneers had an agreement with Brown on a one-year contract in place Saturday, according to a person with knowledge of the deliberations. All that’s left is for the team to announce the signing and perhaps for Brown to chime in on social media. The deal is believed to be for a modest prorated salary plus incentives.
Brown, 32, gets a chance to revive his once-decorated NFL career, prove that his pass-catching skills have not deteriorated and show that he can be a solid citizen on and off the field. If all goes well, he could be in line for an upgraded contract with Tampa Bay or as a free agent. For now, he becomes a half-season rental and a football reclamation project for Brady and the Buccaneers.
If it works, Tampa Bay’s offense could be quite good. Brown would give Brady another accomplished wide receiver alongside Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Scotty Miller. With tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Cameron Brate and running backs Ronald Jones II, Leonard Fournette and LeSean McCoy, that’s far more talent in the offensive supporting cast than Brady had for many Super Bowl-winning seasons in New England.
The Buccaneers are first in the NFL in total defense, making them one of the league’s most complete teams. For now, the unbeaten Seattle Seahawks look like the NFC front-runner. The Bucs have two losses, the most recent one to the Chicago Bears in the game that ended with Brady’s four raised fingers and puzzled look, prompting questions as to whether he had lost track of what down it was. But the Buccaneers just had a dominant victory over the Green Bay Packers and clearly are among the teams vying for NFC supremacy.
Can Brown still play? That’s not a given, not after so much time away. But he was a Pro Bowl selection as recently as 2018 with the Pittsburgh Steelers. In his only 2019 game, with Brady and the Patriots, he looked much like his old on-field self, with four catches for 56 yards and a touchdown.
Teammates always have respected Brown’s dedication and ceaseless work habits. They are generally not the ones who have had to deal with Brown’s other issues. It’s clear that Brady is enamored with Brown’s talent and football work ethic. Brown has the “no days off” approach espoused by the Patriots. New England’s dynasty was built not only on the genius of Coach Bill Belichick and Brady but also on the Patriots’ shared competitive ruthlessness.
Belichick has seemed to believe over the years that he could bring in players considered problematic elsewhere and make it work in New England simply because players know that noncompliance there is not an option. He wasn’t always right. But who can argue with the overall results?
Brady perhaps has brought that mind-set to Tampa Bay, and the Buccaneers don’t appear inclined to say no to him. They reunited Brady with Gronkowski, who came out of retirement. Now they have allowed Brown to rejoin Brady despite Arians, a former Steelers assistant coach, saying in a March radio interview that signing Brown was “not going to happen” and the wideout was “not a fit in our locker room.”
Brown was suspended by the NFL for multiple violations of the personal conduct policy relating to allegations that he sent threatening text messages to a woman and to his no-contest plea in June to charges stemming from a January incident in Florida involving a moving truck. The league’s investigation of rape and sexual assault accusations against Brown by another woman who worked for him as a trainer remains open, according to a person familiar with the case.
Brown’s reputation as an NFL team-wrecker goes beyond all of that. The Steelers, Raiders and Patriots all said their goodbyes to him in 2019. Brown never played a game for the Raiders and had a verbal confrontation with General Manager Mike Mayock on a practice field. He missed time after injuring his feet during cryotherapy treatments and while pursuing grievances against the NFL related to his desire to wear an unapproved helmet.
Arians reportedly relented on the Bucs adding Brown because of injuries that have plagued the team’s wide receivers. In the bigger picture, though, this was the Buccaneers letting Brady have his way, just as they let Brady have his way on Gronkowski.
Trusting Tom Brady has been a wise approach throughout Brady’s two decades of unprecedented NFL success. Only time — and results — will tell whether it was a smart move for the Buccaneers this time.