Trying to stay on top of the unpredictable moves of Antonio Brown the past couple of days must be what it feels like to cover him on the football field. He head fakes one way, cuts another and leaves the rest of the world in his wake.
In the past two days, the All-Pro wide receiver apologized for his previous antics to his Oakland teammates, stunned everyone by posting a video that featured a private phone conversation with Raiders coach Jon Gruden, pleaded for his release from that team (which he ultimately got) and agreed to a deal with the New England Patriots.
Then a little salt in the Raiders’ wound: He showed up in a YouTube video that captured the moment he learned Oakland released him. He runs around the back yard of a home gleefully flapping his arms like a bird and yelling, “I’m free!”
Who knows what his mental state is, but it’s troubling that someone who works so hard to stay a step ahead of the competition seemingly has worked just as hard lately to sabotage his career. Then again, he clearly wanted out of Oakland, and like a receiver squeezing through double coverage, he found a loophole to tantrum his way out of his Raiders contract.
Now, he’s headed to the defending Super Bowl champions, who badly needed another receiving target for Tom Brady after the retirement of Rob Gronkowski. And once again, the Patriots are the tormentors of the Raiders.
The franchise whose dynasty began with the Tuck Rule — the apparent fumble that wasn’t in a snowy divisional playoff game against the Raiders — took full advantage of the Pluck Rule, shamelessly swooping in to snare Brown mere hours after he was released.
It’s hard to know who the true villain is here. Is it Brown, whose churlish behavior knew no boundaries? Is it the Raiders, who Friday night voided nearly $30 million in guaranteed money in Brown’s contract? Is it the Patriots, who didn’t hesitate after the stunning divorce with pen and contract in hand?
We know it isn’t Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who is looking increasingly justified in his fallout with the star receiver during Brown’s days with the Steelers.
Regardless, for the second year in a row, the Raiders are starting the season with their best player on another team’s roster.
Now it’s Brown, and last year it was linebacker Khalil Mack, traded by Gruden to Chicago just before the regular season began.
“Sometimes adversity can be a good thing for a football team,” former Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon said Saturday. “It’s just that you hate to have it before the season even starts.”
A big difference between the Mack and Brown situations is that Mack was a fixture on the Raiders, a spectacular contributor for the team in his first four seasons. Brown turned out to be a figment of their imagination. He was a coming attraction.
The Raiders scored only 30 touchdowns last season, 28th in the NFL.
Brown alone scored 15 for Pittsburgh.
Tim Brown, who’s unrelated to Antonio but was selected to nine Pro Bowls in his Hall of Fame career as a Raiders wide receiver, called the embarrassing soap opera “extremely bizarre.”
“You have a guy who’s an incredible football player, about as high-profile as you can get,” Tim Brown said. “Was basically kicked out of the situation he was in before [with Pittsburgh], to a loving home. Rewarded handsomely. And the last five or six weeks was a circus.
“If there’s any team that’s built for the circus, it’s the Raiders.”
Less receptive to a circus, the Patriots. It’s highly unlikely Bill Belichick would countenance a player secretly taping him, then posting the conversation online. That said, Belichick does have a history of taking talented players who might scare off other teams — Corey Dillon, Albert Haynesworth, Josh Gordon, Randy Moss and Chad Ochocinco among them — and sometimes squeezing incredible years out of them.
But here, the Raiders are left in the lurch, and Brown has gamed the system.