Rejoice, Patriots fans. You’ve got your season and your dignity back.
You can enjoy this talented team with a clear conscience and without painful logical contortion. You can indulge in the pursuit of a seventh Super Bowl title without moral conflict — at least not any more than the usual amount baked into following the NFL.
Antonio Brown is gone and so is the pall of controversy and ethical compromise the wayward wide receiver cast over Foxborough.
The Patriots told Brown to run a permanent out route on Friday, releasing him 11 days after his signing. The last straw of his tumultuous, ill-fated tenure was Brown sending menacing and intimidating text messages to a female artist who had cooperated anonymously in a Sports Illustrated story, alleging she was fired by Brown after she rebuffed his sexual advances in 2017 while painting a mural at his home.
The Patriots don’t need Brown and never should have signed him. He was a football Faustian bargain, the personification of winning by any means necessary. His presence was more difficult to justify than the venial offenses of Spygate or Deflategate.
One day after signing with the Patriots, Brown was hit with a civil suit alleging he sexually assaulted and raped a former trainer, Britney Taylor. We are now spared the embarrassment of Brown receiving a hero’s welcome on Sunday at Gillette Stadium against the New York Jets in what would have been Brown’s first appearance in front of the home crowd. You can use those No. 17 jerseys as kindling now.
It was a bonfire of vanity that brought Brown here and that saw his opportunity go up in flames. Besotted and blinded by Brown’s ability and prolific production, Patriots coach Bill Belichick erred in bringing Brown aboard. The Hubris of the Hoodie is that he believes he can incorporate almost any player into his team, fueled in part by the successful integration of so-called bad boys such as Corey Dillon, Randy Moss, and Aqib Talib.
Belichick believed that his program and coaching — both the best the NFL has to offer — could curb Brown’s self-destructive behavior. He maintained that structure and a football-first culture could reform him and suppress Brown’s worst impulses. He thought that part of Brown’s problems were that past employers in Pittsburgh and Oakland hadn’t held him accountable. Nope.
Belichick should have realized this when Brown and his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, were either unable or unwilling to make the coach aware of Taylor’s allegations and pending lawsuit before Belichick went to bat for signing Brown to a de facto one-year deal that included $10 million guaranteed, $9 million in signing bonus money.
Then, just two days after officially signing Brown, Belichick found himself fending off questions about the lawsuit and Brown’s status in an uncomfortable news conference. Belichick was in such a rush to reel in Brown that he ignored the red flags from his disastrous 182-day stint with the Raiders.
Brown’s signing violated one of the key tenets of the Patriots culture — that dependability is more important than ability. Belichick’s general attitude is that anyone who loves football more than money and fame can become dependable in his system.
The seven-time Pro Bowl selection has always been a hard worker on the field. He worked hard with the Patriots by all accounts and loved the idea of playing for Belichick and with quarterback Tom Brady.
But anyone who thinks Brown prioritizes football at this point in his career over money and the spotlight of fame just hasn’t been paying attention.
He’s the ultimate attention-seeker and social-media oversharer. He essentially broke the news of his own firing in a tweet Friday. Then he posted on Instagram a picture of him and Brady from the team’s win over Miami last Sunday, the only game Brown played as a Patriot, in which he expressed his affection for Brady and his desire for the Patriots to win it all. A magnanimous gesture, except the hashtag after #GoWinIt was #DoitforMe.
Intentional or not, the capitalizing of me was apropos. It reflects Brown’s world view.
He’s too self-involved, too self-absorbed, too self-indulgent, and too devoid of impulse control to sacrifice for the betterment of his team. The Patriot pixie dust didn’t work on him. He’s still the same self-serving guy he was in Pittsburgh and Oakland.
That was evident with the texts he sent Wednesday to the artist he had once commissioned to do a mural in his home. Messages that included pictures of her children and instructions for members of his claque to look into her “background history.”
The intent seemed to be to bully her into no longer talking about her negative experience with Brown. She claimed that experience included him walking up behind with only a small hand towel covering his genitals while she was kneeling to paint and then ending the job after she rejected him.
The Patriots felt the texts crossed the line. The allusion to her kids in the text messages particularly rankled the Patriots. It also mattered that this transgression happened as a member of the Patriots. It’s debatable whether that should be the Rubicon for release, particularly when a player is accused of rape, albeit in a civil matter and not a criminal one. But it was for the Patriots’ decision-makers.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who was out of state, team president Jonathan Kraft, and Belichick reviewed the texts and all eventually came to the same conclusion during the day Friday. Brown wasn’t worth it. It was time to cut their losses — and him.
They could have tried to batten down the hatches in Fort Foxborough, brace for a public relations battle, and waited out Brown’s latest controversy while the NFL dragged its feet. But they spared us all that indignity.
The Patriots are not easily scared off a fight to protect their image, and Belichick is not swayed by public opinion. That should tell you something about Brown’s toxicity.
With someone such as Brown, there is a constant calculus of production vs. disruption. As good as Brown is, the scales have tipped too far toward disruption. The Patriots laid out the expectations for him. They provided him with a path to reputation rehabilitation. He violated their trust. He ignored their guidelines. He forced their hand.
Business is no longer boomin’ for Brown. Business is getting booted. AB has been jettisoned by three teams in six months. If he can’t make it here, where can he in the NFL?
The Patriots will survive and thrive without him. Maybe, that will involve a larger role for Phillip Dorsett, or N’Keal Harry starring as a rookie once he returns from injured reserve, or Belichick trading for another veteran receiver (hello, Emmanuel Sanders). Brown always needed the Patriots more to win a Super Bowl than they needed him to win a seventh.
Hopefully, he can turn his life around. But that’s not a Patriots concern anymore.
Brown got his walking papers, and you got the freedom to enjoy Patriots football guilt-free.