When a head coach gets blunt with media members and tells reporters that someone isn’t a good fit in the locker room, it generally feels like the end of the discussion regarding that player.
Add in reasoning like a lack of room in the depth chart, a lack of money to pay the player, and personality issues, and it seems like an idea that was dead on arrival.
But, somehow and someway, wide receiver Antonio Brown managed to land with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
After a rollercoaster of a year in 2019 that spanned three different teams, it looked like the former NFL MVP candidate’s career was over.
He had been suspended by the league in July of 2020 for “multiple violations of the NFL’s Personal Conduct Policy,” amid allegations of sexual assault and a separate incident involving an alleged assault on a moving truck driver.
He was guaranteed to be off the field for the first eight weeks of the 2020 NFL season, with question marks surrounding his future even after that initial punishment was served.
Through it all, the wide receiver kept working out, prepping for the possibility that a team would bring him in for a late-season push towards the postseason in 2020.
The Seattle Seahawks emerged as a candidate, which made sense after Brown was seen working out with Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson in the summer.
Some wondered if the New England Patriots would take Brown back, given their lack of depth at wide receiver in 2020 and the fact that Foxborough was Brown’s last home in the NFL.
But, in the end, one team emerged as the “winner” of the Antonio Brown sweepstakes.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The move made sense from a logistical standpoint, given the relationship Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady has with Brown from the duo’s brief time together in New England.
Brady even allowed Brown to stay at his home in Brookline, Massachusetts when the former Pittsburgh Steelers and Oakland Raiders wideout signed with the team, and it looked like the start of a Randy Moss-esque situation for the Patriots.
But, Brown played just one game in a Patriots uniform, a 43-0 rout in Miami on September 15, 2019. It would turn out to be the only game Brown would play in a two-year span.
So, when Brady took his talents down to Miami to sign with the Buccaneers, the wheels began to turn in many people’s minds about the opportunity for the former Patriots star to recruit his friend.
Instead, Brady was left with star receivers like Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, and managed to bring former Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski out of retirement to join him in Tampa Bay.
So, why didn’t they sign Brown back in March, even before his eight-game suspension was handed down by the league?
According to Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians, the answer was simple.
“Yeah, it’s not gonna happen,” Arians said in an interview back in March. “There’s no room, and probably not enough money. But it’s not gonna happen — it’s not a fit here.”
Seems like a definitive answer, right?
If that wasn’t convincing enough, Arians added another nugget about Brown’s personality, which seemed like the final straw that broke the idea’s back.
“I just know him, and — it’s not a fit in our locker room,” Arians said. “He’s too much of a diva.”
Arians did know Brown well, considering Arians’ tenure as the Steelers’ offensive coordinator before he took the head coaching job with the Buccaneers.
And, it wasn’t even the first time Arians had made those types of comments about his former top wide receiver.
“There’s too much miscommunication, too much…diva,” Arians said on The Adam Schefter Podcast in 2019.
Things can always change regarding a team’s depth chart or financial situation, especially in a year impacted by a global pandemic. Injuries happen, some players opted out due to COVID-19, and a variety of roster moves can free up or kill a franchise’s cap space.
In this case, the Buccaneers are in a prime spot to make this type of move. Sure, Brady has loads of weapons to work with offensively, but wide receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin have been battling injuries throughout the season, and dealt with similar problems throughout the 2019 campaign, as well.
The team is also in a divisional race in a competitive NFC South, and likely believe that 2020 is its year to go for it all and try to win its first Super Bowl since 2002.
While all of those elements make it seem like the right move, one thing still sticks out from Arians’ comments from early in 2019.
“It’s not a fit here.”
Arians did change his tone when talking to reporters after the team’s win over the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 7 of the 2020 season, citing that the “time was right” to pursue the Brown signing.
“I think he’s matured, and I believe in second chances,” Arians told reporters. “Everybody wants to say that Tom [Brady] picked him. Tom didn’t have anything to do with it. This was something [Buccaneers general manager] Jason [Licht] and I had been talking [about] for a couple weeks, ever since the injuries to our other guys.”
“When the time was right, would we see if we could pull the trigger and fit him in to what we want to get done?” Arians continued. “And we’ll see. If Antonio does what I think he’s gonna do, I think he’s gonna be fine.”
While Arians cited a sense that Brown had “matured,” it’s tough to take his words at face value.
Just seven months prior, the Buccaneers head coach called the wide receiver a “diva,” and said it wouldn’t be “a fit in our locker room.” More than a year prior to those comments, he said that there was “too much miscommunication,” and again used the term “diva.”
And, if anything, Brown’s situation got worse from the time Arians made those first comments back in 2019. Consider the litany of sexual assault allegations made against Brown in the second half of 2019, along with the multitude of other incidents that went on away from the field throughout that year.
The consistency in Arians’ thought process is there, all the way up until the news broke that Brown would be joining the Buccaneers in 2020.
As the team enjoyed a 5-2 record and a spot in first place in the NFC South, Arians decided it was time to go all-in, and shake things up completely in the locker room.
Just as things began to click offensively, evident by a 42-point performance in Week 7 and a 38-point performance a week prior, Arians figured it was time to bring in someone that he felt was, at one point, “not a fit in our locker room.”
Fans can argue about the chemistry Brady and Brown already have, and the statistics from that September 2019 game against the Dolphins that showed what they’re capable of together.
At the same time, fans can argue about the lack of touches a star like Evans is getting at times in the Buccaneers offense, and the amount of time it took for Gronkowski to find the end zone and get targets in the same scheme.
Now, the team will add in a receiver that isn’t shy to voice his opinions, and will have to hope that Brown doesn’t complain about a lack of touches in an already-packed lineup.
If Brown gets his touches and doesn’t have any reason to complain, someone else easily could have cause for concern. Whether it’s Evans, Godwin, Gronkowski, or even running backs like Ronald Jones III, Leonard Fournette, or LeSean McCoy, there’s bound to be at least one piece in the locker room that winds up upset as a result of the move.
And, that’s all just from an on-the-field perspective.
Factor in the additional wild cards that come in when a player like Brown enters a locker room halfway through the season, and the potential for a lack of discipline when dealing with a coach that he has a history with, and chaos could ensue quickly down in Tampa Bay.
As a result, the Buccaneers could easily lose out on all of the progress they made throughout the first half of the 2020 season, and fall out of playoff contention in the long run.
Arians told FOX Sports’ Jay Glazer about the ultimatum that Brown will have to deal with in 2020 “Be a team player, or be gone.”
Both Brown and the Buccaneers will learn pretty quickly about what the answer to that ultimatum will be, and past practice seems to indicate that it will turn into the latter.
It could turn out to be the team’s best decision of the year in the grand scheme of things. But, at first glance, Antonio Brown signing with the Buccaneers seems like a disaster waiting to happen.