Antonio Brown is gone but we are still sifting through the rubble left behind from his 11-day stay.
He was more cyclone than hurricane. He didn’t cause full devastation, just a narrow swath of damage. Over the course of six days since Brown’s release, a lot’s been said. A lot’s been written. More, probably, has been left unsaid.
The dynamic caused by Brown’s entrance and exit put on display the conflict every team deals with every day. Football vs. Business. The push-pull between putting the best team possible on the field while also protecting the brand built around the 53 players a team chooses to employ.
What’s the tipping point? How badly does a great football player have to act before it’s decided he’s hurting business more than he’s helping?
Depends where you’re viewing it from.
If you’re Robert Kraft and own the team and sign the checks you’re going to have less patience for a player putting your business and — by extension — you in a negative spotlight.
If you’re Bill Belichick and coach the team and make the personnel decisions, you’ll be in the middle. You’ve earned the latitude to make risky moves because of your track record. The risk-reward is obvious. You can be unstoppable offensively. That’s the holy grail. You’re also asking the owner to enjoy the football and try to tolerate a disruptive, destructive, chaotic person who’s the antithesis of the “team first” mantra the franchise embraces. You know the ice is thin. You just don’t know how thin exactly.
If you’re Tom Brady, you just want good football and peace. You’ll be Father Flanagan. “There is no such thing as a bad boy.” Hurt people hurt people. You’ll help. You’ll tolerate. You’ll live on the sunny side of the street and bring Antonio Brown with you.
Here’s what Brown left behind.
A bummed-out quarterback who had five practices and one game with an ultra-rare talent. He went all-in trying to make it work, got close to Brown and tried to understand and help him. He’s not happy Brown got flushed both because the football was going to be sublime and Brady thought Brown was reachable.
I was told the practice performance of Brady when Brown was on the field was almost perfect. There were more than a half-dozen plays Brown made that were breathtaking. He was beyond anything Brady ever worked with.
Brady was trying to help Brown stabilize. He disagrees with the business decision made by Robert Kraft to jettison Brown.
People complain Tom Brady doesn’t give much in the way of answers? He gave it all up Monday regarding Brown when he was on WEEI and said, “You want everyone to become the best they could they could possibly be. And you try to provide leadership and try to care for people. You try to provide whatever you think you can to help them reach their highest potential,” Brady continued. “Whatever situation it is, and I’ve had a lot of teammates over the years. So you invest not just your head but you heart, your soul. That’s what makes a great team, that’s what makes a great brotherhood.”
Brady had two comments to Jim Gray on Westwood One Monday night that stood out.
Asked about his comment to Kraft that he was “one million percent in” when the owner and Brady communicated about Brown’s initial signing, Brady said, “Well, that was a private conversation that I wish had remained private.”
That’s now the third time Brady’s reiterated that Kraft’s candor in that instance irritates him.
Brady also said to Gray, emphatically, “I don’t make any personnel decisions. I don’t decide to sign players. I don’t decide to trade then. I don’t decide to release them. I don’t decide to draft them. I don’t get asked, I show up and do my job. I’m an employee like everyone else. I’m going to show this week and do the best I can do as quarterback. … Maybe one day I will be an owner and I can make all the decisions that I want.”
You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.
Which brings us to Bill Belichick. I reported last Friday evening that the decision to release Brown was unanimous, that the threatening texts were a “bridge too far.” After more conversations this week, I’ve come to understand that unanimous decision wasn’t easily reached. Belichick accepted the decision and understood it. But he was by no means leading the charge to move on — and if Kraft hadn’t insisted, Brown would probably still be here.
Which, one can logically conclude, is why Brown made sure to show appreciation for Belichick in social media posts after his release while sending drone strikes at Kraft on Sunday morning.
Why, when asked, “What was the last straw?” did Belichick not at least mumble something to Dana Jacobson about the decision being what was best for the football team? Because he isn’t sold that it was the best thing for the football team. And the real answer, “Robert is the boss and the heat got too hot…” would have been less prudent than an icy stare.
By laying out the way things went down, I’m not seeing an insurrection against Kraft in the offing.
Brady — as he made very clear — is in, “Don’t ask me, I just work here…” mode. And Belichick has to know that the entire Brown affair has made life more difficult for the owner. They move on.
But there will be fallout and it will be for the owner.
Aside from the “What about Bob?!” dredging up of Kraft’s West Palm Beach embarrassment all week long, now comes a mudwrestle with Brown and his legal team as to whether the team owes him his $9M signing bonus.
And as long as Brown has opposable thumbs and a cell phone, the next salvo from him directed at Kraft is just a malicious whim away.
How many personnel decisions has Kraft insisted be made in 20 years with Belichick? To my knowledge, none. Everybody doesn’t have to like it — and they don’t — but they will have to live with it.
In the end, though, the cyclone known as Antonio is the one to “blame” for the fact the owner, coach and quarterback ended up at odds.
Business could have been boomin’. Instead it went bust.
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