Raiders

Antonio Brown's swift release highlights true nature of 'Patriot Way'

Antonio Brown's swift release highlights true nature of 'Patriot Way'

In the end, Antonio Brown couldn't get out of his own way. Couldn't keep his head down and his name out of the news. Couldn't become invisible Monday-Saturday in Foxboro.

Instead, Brown was ever-present even while being kept away from the local media save for a quick, four-question session Thursday. As a result, the Patriots cut the mercurial wide receiver Friday.

Maybe the memo got lost.

When Brown signed on with the Patriots 11 days ago after detonating his relationship with the Raiders mostly via Instagram, most people saw the rich getting richer. They saw Bill Belichick and Tom Brady getting a receiver at the height of his powers who surely would fit in and take to "The Patriot Way" immediately. 

That never happened, and Brown has only himself to blame.

After the Patriots elected to play Brown in their Week 2 thumping of the Dolphins despite the sexual assault lawsuit that was filed the day he signed with New England, most thought Belichick was prepared to ignore the noise, outrage and general s--tstorm Brown creates on a daily basis because, well, he's one of the best at what he does. Holding talent and wins above all else, after all, is part of "The Patriot Way," right? Not quite.

That's how former Patriots running back Kevin Faulk once described it.

But that's not how I ever saw it. And I don't think that's how most who spend their time at 1 Patriot Place would characterize it.

Having helped cover the Patriots during my time in Boston, it just never seemed like the case. Talent and production isn't an automatic recipe for being a Patriot. You can be all-world at your position and bring it on Sundays. Brown certainly is and does. You can give the appearance that you walk the company line. He did that Thursday with his answers during his brief media session. 

That's not enough.

If you were watching Bill Belichick's press conference Friday morning as I was, you saw Brown's Patriots tenure circling the drain. I'm sure most reporters in that room felt it, too. There's a feeling in the air in Foxboro when non-football related issues own the day. An uneasy feeling permeates the walls. Things feel as if they are out of equilibrium. But order normally is restored swiftly. 

On Wednesday night, Brown sent menacing and threatening text messages to a woman who accused him of sexual misconduct, and she gave the texts to Sports Illustrated's Robert Klemko and the NFL.

When Belichick walked to the podium Friday, he already was annoyed at the barrage of questions he was about to face. None, at least in his mind, about football. Zero X's and O's inquiries. The focus was all on a player who had been in the building less than 14 days and kept taking the attention away from the team's preparation. Belichick briefly answered a few questions, then when it became clear there would be no non-Brown questions, he ended the session and stormed out.

Hours later Brown was cut and order was restored, days before the Patriots were due to pay him $5 million of his $9 million signing bonus.

Brown wasn't cut because of the ongoing NFL investigation surrounding the alleged sexual assault in 2018 or the sexual misconduct in 2017. In Patriot Land, what matters is what you do while you are a Patriot. 

Belichick wipes the slate clean once you enter the building, but the rope never is long, especially not as long as the one Jon Gruden and the Raiders were willing to give Brown. That's why he played against the Dolphins, despite the lawsuit. He wasn't a Patriot when it happened, so it doesn't concern them.

But when Brown sent menacing text messages to a woman who hadn't filed any charges or lawsuits against him, a woman who only told her story to Sports Illustrated while asking to remain anonymous, he went after her and her children as a member and representative of the Patriots.

That's a no-no.

Brown rocked the boat, forcing Belichick and his teammates to answer countless questions about his pending legal issues, mental state and work ethic. Quarterback Tom Brady was peppered with inquiries about Brown's status and actions. Brady, like everyone else in the building, just wanted to pivot back to the Jets. The focus went from football to AB and his off-field issues.

No talent is worth that headache to Belichick. He'd rather go to battle with 53 players with half Brown's talent and none of the nonsense then spend one more second fielding questions about something that doesn't involve 22 men colliding with each other for sport. 

Belichick and the Patriots can win without Brown. The four-time All-Pro receiver never was integral to their success. He was ancillary. A fun experiment. So he's gone, without so much as a second thought or hint of regret. Things at 1 Patriot Place are perfectly balanced, as all things should be.

The Patriots' are the gold standard in the NFL. The franchise every team is trying to emulate.

Most teams try to do so by accumulating talent, giving problem players carte blanche to run rampant with the promise of wins coming Sunday. Most teams are forced to do so.

The Raiders went easy on Brown, allowing him to do things his way. His talent too great to cast aside because of a headache that surely scoring touchdowns would cure. It's important to note that Brown was facing no legal issues for sexual assault while a member of the Raiders, perhaps the rope would have been shorter if his actions were more serious. We'll never know.

Still, Brown was a constant distraction to everyone from general manager Mike Mayock to the equipment manager. Brown hijacked the Raiders' preseason with his antics. They let him. They had to. Gruden and Mayock played everything perfectly, as far as teams that haven't won six Super Bowls in two decades go. The rope was long for Brown. He used all and then kept right on going.

The Patriots don't play that game. Ever.

Linebacker Dont'a Hightower once explained "The Patriot Way" as such to the Houston Chronicle.

"It is just more about the way you carry yourself, about the way you manage expectations, and know what expectations are," Hightower said. "Guys come in not knowing what it is and guys go out not being able to explain what the Patriot way is, but when you are there, you know what it is- guys buy-in."

Brown learned that when he was ejected from Belichick's life Friday. His actions were a clear breach of both "The Patriots Way" and the conduct clause in his contract. The expectation was clear and Brown missed the bar like a high-jumper tripping before take-off.

[RELATED: AB's pattern of disturbing behavior shows Raiders made right call]

From the minute those text messages came to light, Brown's time in Foxboro already had expired.

Belichick and the Patriots had to get back to their own boomin' business. The one everyone else is trying to get into.

That of winning.

Raiders roster analysis: Defense still needs help after major upgrades

Raiders roster analysis: Defense still needs help after major upgrades

General manager Mike Mayock has been candid about the Raiders’ defensive deficiencies, especially in a press conference at the NFL scouting combine.

He wasn’t just complaining about the problem. Mayock and head coach Jon Gruden executed an aggressive plan to fix it. The Raiders added several established veteran free agents, especially through the middle of the defense, to improve a unit that hasn’t been good enough in recent years.

The Silver and Black even came out ahead following a crazy Thursday where the Eli Apple deal dissolved and versatile defensive back Damarious Randall came aboard.

The Raiders are much more talented heading into the 2020 campaign, though an upgrade or two could complete what has been a solid offseason to this point.

Let’s take a look at the current state of the Raiders defense, an analysis that pairs well with Friday’s edition of the Raiders Insider podcast. You can find that below, on our NBC Sports Bay Area/California YouTube channel or wherever you get your podcasts. Also, check out our Josh Schrock’s ranking of the top 20 Raiders defensive players.

Here’s our positional breakdown, where they’re set and where the Raiders need some help.

Defensive end

Starters: Maxx Crosby, Clelin Ferrell
Top reserves: Carl Nassib, Arden Key
State of the position: Crosby was a revelation last year, finishing second in defensive rookie of the year voting. He hit double-digit sacks and proved a far better run defender than people thought. Ferrell had some setbacks in his rookie season – he lost 15 pounds with the flu before midseason – and performed below expectations associated with his draft slot. He has vowed to be better in 2020 and has the work ethic required to make great leaps. Nassib’s a versatile weapon an upgrade over 2019 situational pass rusher Benson Mayowa, though he doesn’t come cheap. Nassib also is a solid run defender who can also operate as a stand-up rusher. Key has talent and bend but hasn’t performed well in games to this point.
Help wanted?: Another edge rusher couldn’t hurt, even if it’s just a situational player later in the NFL draft, but the group will be fine even without another impact player.

Defensive tackle

Starters: Johnathan Hankins, Maliek Collins
Top reserves: Maurice Hurst, P.J. Hall, Daniel Ross
State of the position: Collins makes the interior much, much better. He has the interior pass-rush ability lacking for the Silver and Black in recent seasons, which is vital to the success of Paul Guenther’s defensive scheme. Collins would’ve led the Raiders in quarterback pressures in 2019 and has excelled battling through double teams. He’ll help those around him, making the entire line better. Hankins is a solid run defender and Hurst will have a significant role in the rotation, especially in the sub-packages. Hall will be pushed by others in the group.
Help wanted?: Collins takes the edge off this need, but the Raiders could use one more piece to this puzzle. The former Dallas Cowboy is working on a one-year deal and Hankins has a season left on his deal, so adding another player would help the 2020 group and provide some help in future seasons.

Linebacker

Starters: MLB Nick Kwiatkoski, WLB Cory Littleton, SLB Marquel Lee
Top reserves: Nick Morrow, Kyle Wilber
State of the position: Adding Kwiatkoski and Littleton to the group makes linebacker a team strength. They should pair as three-down linebackers. Lee could man the strong side, but he comes off frequently for a defensive back. Morrow has experience at both interior spots and is a quality backup who could start at any linebacker position if required.
Help wanted?: The Raiders are set here in the short and long term, something unusual for a Raiders franchise that has struggled to find proper fits at the position.

Cornerback

Starters: Trayvon Mullen, Isaiah Johnson, Lamarcus Joyner
Top reserves: Nevin Lawson, Keisean Nixon
State of the position: Mullen’s a long-term solution at one cornerback spot. Joyner’s solid in the slot, where the Raiders prefer him to play. Johnson’s still raw after losing much of his rookie year to a concussion and facial fracture suffered in the preseason. Lawson has tons of starting experience and Nixon is a valuable backup. All that said, the Raiders were looking for a top cornerback to start opposite Mullen and still don’t have that player. Eli Apple would’ve been the frontrunner to play outside, but his deal fell apart this week and he’s now back on the open market.
Help wanted?: The Raiders need a top cornerback in the draft. Like, really bad. They could and probably should use the No. 12 or 19 selection on a plug-and-play cornerback and complete the position group. They could use Randall there if nobody else seizes the job, but free safety seems like a better fit for him.

[RELATED: NFL Draft 2020: Raiders should select one of these five defensive backs]

Safeties

Starters: Johnathan Abram, Damarious Randall
Top reserves: Jeff Heath, Erik Harris
State of the position: If Randall ends up playing safety as expected, this group suddenly is stout. Abram has a lot to prove but has great potential as a physical tone-setter. Randall could free him to be aggressive with his ability at free safety, though he can move around and do a lot of things well. Heath and Harris have extensive starting experience and are solid reserves. They could fill in well in case of injury or if Randall’s needed at cornerback, where he spent the first three years of his NFL career.
Help wanted?: The Raiders could’ve used another safety before Randall arrived, Now that he’s committed to the Silver and Black, the position’s a great shape.

NFL Draft 2020: EA Sports to create 'virtual moment' with Roger Goodell, picks

NFL Draft 2020: EA Sports to create 'virtual moment' with Roger Goodell, picks

The 2020 NFL Draft will be unlike anything seen in recent memory. But EA Sports is going to do its part to add a shade of semi-normalcy.

Due to the global coronavirus pandemic, the annual event, which was slated to be held in Las Vegas, instead will be held remotely. This, of course, means top prospects like Joe Burrow, Chase Young, Justin Herbert and Tua Tagovailoa won't be able to have their handshake moment with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

Not so fast.

NFL Media's Ian Rapoport noted Friday that EA Sports will create a digital meeting between each first-round pick and Goodell that will be shown as part of the broadcast.

EA Sports has reached out to those assumed to be picked in the first round and asked how they would interact with Goodell if the draft were being held in person. There have been several memorable draft moments between prospects and Goodell, including Miami Dolphins defensive lineman Christian Wilkins almost taking out the commish with a shoulder bump last year.

[RELATED: McKinney headlines top DB prospects for Raiders to target]

Each first-round pick also will get to select a high school to receive a $2,500 grant toward their football program.

It won't be a normal draft, but the virtual walk-ups will at least add something to what will be a unique broadcast.

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