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Bruce Arians blames Antonio Brown’s refusal to play on lack of targets

Antonio Brown released a statement addressing his actions in Week 17, shifting some of the focus onto Bruce Arians and his response to Brown's injury.

Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians tried to say as little as possible regarding Antonio Brown’s exit from the team. On Thursday, after Brown accused Arians of pressuring Brown to play while injured, Arians had no choice but to provide more details.

Arians claimed that Brown at no point in the game complained to the trainer or the doctor about his injured ankle, and that Arians wasn’t notified about any issues with the ankle. Arians also made it clear that Brown’s reluctance flowed from frustration over the number of footballs being thrown his way.

“He was very upset at halftime about who was getting targeted,” Arians said. “Got that calmed down, players took care of that. It started again on the sideline. We called for the personnel group that he had played in the entire game. He refused to go in the game. That’s when I looked back and saw him basically wave off the coach. I then went back, approached him about what was going on. ‘I ain’t playing.’ What’s going on? ‘I ain’t getting the ball.’ That’s when I said, ‘You’re done, get the eff out of here.’”

Asked about the throat-slash gesture that Arians allegedly made to Brown, Arians laughed and suggested that it was the motion with his finger, telling Brown to leave.

“You can’t force a player to play,” Arians added. “I mean, they have that choice. It’s their body. He decided to play. He and Mike both were on pitch counts. And we were trying to manage that the best we could in the first half.”

Arians’s explanation defies common sense, frankly. The mere that that Brown was on a pitch count shows that THEY KNEW Brown was injured. And if Brown, who clearly had an injury, truly didn’t want to play because he wasn’t getting enough targets, why wouldn’t he blame it on his ankle? He had a built-in excuse. Even if the ankle wasn’t bothering him, Brown’s easiest play to justify not playing would have been to say that his ankle is bothering him.

It’s also now clear that Brown left the field during the game because (drum roll, please), HIS HEAD COACH TOLD HIM TO.

To the extent that Brown had frustrations about targets, the Bucs only have themselves to blame. Despite his history of erratic, selfish behavior, they gave him a contract that tied compensation to production. (The Rams, in contrast, tied Odell Beckham’s 2021 contractual extras to team achievements, not individual statistics.)

The Bucs clearly were on notice of Brown’s concern regarding his ability to reach his incentives. G.M. Jason Licht acknowledged on Thursday that Brown and his agent had asked for the balance of Brown’s incentive package to be guaranteed. The team declined to do so.

Thus, Brown had to earn it. To earn it, he had to play -- and to get the ball. So he fought through injury to have a chance to get the money, and he became frustrated when he wasn’t getting the ball.

Again, why give someone like Brown that kind of incentive? He was pissed off because he was losing chances to earn his incentives. And when he indeed chose to stop playing, why wouldn’t he have mentioned his ankle? You know, the ankle that had him on a pitch count?

Indeed, it could be argued that Arians should have affirmatively asked whether the ankle was an issue, instead of waiting for Brown to utter magic words that arguably didn’t need to be uttered.

They knew he was injured. They knew he wanted to earn his incentives. They knew he was upset that he wasn’t getting chances to get closer to his incentives. Then, when he refused to play, they didn’t bother to think that maybe it was because of an ankle injury that he was willing to deal with in order to reach his incentives. Then, after he left the field during the game, Arians didn’t bother to correct the perception that Brown left on his own volition, and not because Arians told him to “get the eff out of here.”

There’s plenty of blame to go around on this one. The Buccaneers handled it poorly, from the moment they agreed to pay him incentives based on individual performance until the instant that they released him. Brown handled it poorly, especially when he decided to make a major stink on social media in order to get himself released. (Then again, it worked.) And Arians handled it poorly, poorly enough that he probably should be wondering whether an ownership group that has no qualms about pushing coaches out the door (Tony Dungy, Jon Gruden, Raheem Morris, Greg Schiano, Lovie Smith, Dirk Koetter) will decide that it’s time to elevate Byron Leftwich or Todd Bowles, while they still can.