The 2019 NFL regular season ends on Sunday, and it ends with one of the most productive receivers in the game, Antonio Brown, having played in just one game. Not because of injury, but because of his own behavior and off-field issues.
On Monday night, ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, who covered Brown when he was with the Pittsburgh Steelers, posted a story on Brown and how he’s handled his season of exile (spoiler: not well, if you follow Brown on social media). Fowler spoke to numerous people from Brown’s past and present for the story, though not Brown himself.
Not surprisingly, they paint an interesting picture of a man who loves football but looks at most other things and people with skepticism, who can be charming one day and lash out the next.
Won’t make it to Week 1
One of the more interesting parts of Fowler’s story: Brown’s teammates on the Steelers knew he wouldn’t last long in Oakland.
“When Brown signed that deal [with Oakland] in March,” Fowler wrote. “Some Steelers privately debated how long Brown would last without the generous concessions [Mike] Tomlin made for the receiver.
“The consensus was that Brown wouldn't make it to Week 1 — and that turned out to be right.”
Brown’s issues with the Raiders have been well-documented: there was the almost-inexplicable devotion to a helmet model he couldn’t wear for safety reasons, the cryotherapy incident that left him with severely blistered feet and at least one confrontation with Oakland general manager Mike Mayock.
As players in Pittsburgh knew full well, and as Fowler further documents, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin allowed special rules for Brown — as long as he continued to produce on the field.
And still, it wasn’t enough. From Fowler’s profile:
Even with the relaxed barricades around him, Brown often welcomed conflict, which many teammates noticed in his love-hate relationship with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. If Brown had a problem, he wouldn't hold back in voicing his frustration, including once when Roethlisberger tried to enforce his no-music policy in the locker room. “F--- you, cracker,” Brown responded, according to one Steeler. The two usually hashed things out, but Brown's in-your-face, confrontational style became exhausting to some players who just wanted to come to work without issue.
Big money = bigger headache
Many said things got worse after Brown signed a four year, $68 million extension in February 2017. Friends and former teammates said his disruptive behavior became more frequent.
Before he forced his way out of Pittsburgh, his off-field issues had mounted. In addition to police making 20 trips to his home from 2014-18, there were disputes with the mothers of his children, lawsuits and mounting bills alleging lack of payment from Brown for a variety of services.
Things didn’t get better during his brief stint with Oakland, or his even briefer stint with the New England Patriots.
He asked the Raiders for his release in September, and signed a contract with New England the same day. Brown had bought a $3.2 million home in Alamo, California, near Oakland, and five months after he was traded to the Raiders, he was gone.
“It's like he laid down roots for a situation he sabotaged,” a source told Fowler.
Brown’s father, Eddie, said the receiver was thrilled to sign with the Patriots, citing the culture and professionalism of the team and the chance to play with Tom Brady.
Even after a lawsuit was filed in Florida accusing Brown of forcible rape and other sexual misconduct against Britney Taylor, who had once worked as a trainer for him, the Patriots kept him on the roster. (Fowler reported that talks with Taylor’s and Brown’s attorneys through the summer led to a $2 million settlement that would have avoided the lawsuit, but at the final moment Brown wouldn’t sign off on the deal.)
When a second woman came forward in a Sports Illustrated story alleging more sexual misconduct when she was hired to paint a mural at his Pittsburgh-area home and Brown responded by asking his associates to “look into” the woman’s background, sharing a photo of her children, the Patriots cut Brown, reportedly at the insistence of team owner Robert Kraft.
‘Maybe I need to change’
According to Eddie Brown, Antonio summoned his father to the office of his Miami-area home shortly after he was cut by New England. Usually Brown, like his father, responds to difficult situations with stubbornness.
But that day, Brown told Eddie, “Maybe I need to change what I’m doing.”
He told his father he was undergoing therapy, which Fowler confirmed with a source, but it’s unclear what kind of therapy, how often he’d gone or any other details.
“He understands something may be going on, and he's going to see about it,” Eddie said in an October interview. “If there is or isn't, he'll find out. But he's not sitting around doing nothing. ... That come-to-Jesus moment came home.”
Brown’s social media is all over the place: twice he’s said he’s done with the NFL, only to backtrack within hours, he’s lashed out at Kraft, the NFL, the NFL Players Association and others, and also issued an apology on Instagram earlier this month only to throw himself a pity party on Twitter days later.
It has friends and former teammates, like Joe Haden, worried about his well-being.
Is this the end?
Eddie Brown said his son’s days include bringing his children to school then heading to a field to train with Glenn Holt, a former NFL receiver and local high school football coach. The routine and training offer an escape.
“He's starting to put some things together, see it from a different perspective that I think is very positive,” Eddie said. “All he wants is another chance to write his story and play the game he loves.”
Fowler concludes that due the NFL investigation that will likely continue for months, the reality of Brown being a 32-year-old receiver who has been on the sidelines for a year and his own behavior that “some around the league believe Brown might not play an NFL down again.”
More from Yahoo Sports: