Antonio Brown

Is Antonio Brown still angling for Patriots return despite Tom Brady's exit?

Is Antonio Brown still angling for Patriots return despite Tom Brady's exit?

Wherever Tom Brady goes, Antonio Brown will try to follow. That was the expectation, anyway.

But the Tampa Bay Buccaneers reportedly aren't interested in signing the free agent wide receiver, who is under NFL investigation for multiple allegations of sexual assault and misconduct and has yet to be cleared to play in 2020.

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So, might Brown try to return to the team he last played for instead? The wideout raised a few eyebrows Wednesday by posting an Instagram photo of himself in a New England Patriots uniform with an alarm emoji as the caption.

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Either Brown is in a nostalgic mood, or he's sending a signal to the Patriots that he wants to return to New England.

Patriots running back Brandon Bolden replied to Brown's post with three 😤 (snorting) emojis, so perhaps he wouldn't mind this development.

While Brady is long gone, Brown may be intrigued by teaming up with new Patriots quarterback Cam Newton, who's aiming to return to Pro Bowl form in 2020 after an injury-shortened 2019 season.

Brown's post also could be another attempt to keep his name in the NFL conversation, as the 31-year-old has done throughout the offseason by posting workout videos and photos and film clips of his past accomplishments.

It seems unlikely the Patriots would re-sign Brown considering he lasted less than two weeks with the team last September, but we suppose you miss 100 percent of the shots you don't take.

NFL Rumors: Could Antonio Brown reunite with Tom Brady, sign with Bucs?

NFL Rumors: Could Antonio Brown reunite with Tom Brady, sign with Bucs?

Will Bruce Arians have a change of heart?

The Buccaneers head coach was adamant back in March that Tampa Bay wouldn't sign Antonio Brown to reunite the free-agent wide receiver with Tom Brady.

"It's just not gonna happen," Arians said at the time. "It's not a fit here."

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Fast forward to late June, when sports talk radio host John Tournour and The Athletic's Michael Lombardi both suggested Brown-to-the-Bucs is still on the table.

During an appearance Monday on "The Pat McAfee Show," Lombardi insinuated the Bucs are "chipping away" at changing Arians' mind about Brown.

Pittsburgh Steelers, (then-) Oakland Raiders and New England Patriots fans will recognize "Business is Boomin'" as Brown's trademark catchphrase.

Business hasn't been boomin' for Brown since 2018, when he led the NFL with 15 touchdown receptions for the Steelers. The 31-year-old signed with the Raiders in March 2019 but was released before the season started, then joined the Patriots to appear in one game for New England before the club cut him in late September.

Brown still is under NFL investigation for multiple allegations of sexual assault and misconduct, and it's unclear whether the league will punish or suspend him.

If the seven-time Pro Bowler is eligible to play, however, there will be "a bunch of teams" interested in signing him, The Athletic's Jay Glazer reported Monday.

Arians was Brown's offensive coordinator for two seasons in Pittsburgh and seemingly doesn't want to coach him again. But both Brown and Brady have hinted at a reunion, so perhaps the 42-year-old QB will convince Arians otherwise.

UPDATE (1:35 p.m. ET): The Bucs still aren't interested in signing Brown, ESPN's Dianna Russini reports:

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Could Patriots ranking among dead money leaders cost team in 2020?

Could Patriots ranking among dead money leaders cost team in 2020?

The New England Patriots have won six Super Bowls over the last 20 years in part by spending wisely.

Is that all about to change?

The Patriots currently have the least amount of cap space of any NFL team at $1.85 million, per Spotrac. Part of the reason for that is the amount of money they're paying to players who won't play for them in 2020 -- otherwise known as "dead money."

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In fact, New England currently owes $24 million in "dead money," which according to Spotrac puts the team in dubious company.

Let's just say the Panthers, Jaguars, Rams and Dolphins aren't expected to be Super Bowl contenders in 2020.

And if the last four seasons are any indication, the Patriots would be bucking a trend just by going 9-7 in their first season of the post-Tom Brady era.

Brady is the primary reason why New England is in this position: He accounts for $13.5 million of that $24 million number, while Antonio Brown is next-closest with $4.5 million in dead money owed.

But such was the contract that Brady signed last August that gave him a potential out in 2020 -- one he took to join the Tampa Bay Buccaneers rather than take another pay cut to stay in New England.

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The Patriots, who have signed all of their 2020 draft picks, still can create extra cap space by trading or extending offensive guard Joe Thuney, who currently has a $14.7 million cap hit that's second-highest on the team.

New England also could restructure the deals of several other players -- like it did recently with Patrick Chung -- to free up more space.

That dead money isn't going away, though, so Bill Belichick and presumptive starting quarterback Jarrett Stidham have another historic precedent to overcome this season.