Since announcing the signing of wide receiver Antonio Brown on September 7, The New England Patriots have been riding a tumultuous wave of highs and lows. Supremely talented, but deeply troubled, Brown arrived in Foxboro, Massachusetts with numerous concerns surrounding his character. On Friday, Brown left town amidst even more problems; some of which may even land him in legal difficulty.
For Brown, it was a disappointing end to his brief, but highly-publicized tenure in New England.
For the Patriots, it was simply ‘a matter of trust.’
Billy Joel’s 1986 hit, ‘A Matter of Trust,’ might just provide a fitting backdrop for the events transpiring in Foxboro for the past couple of weeks. Joel’s typically passionate delivery of the lines of this song do truly make the song a compelling listen. Pay particularly close attention to the following line, as its meaning is quite appropriate for the now broken relationship between Brown and the Patriots:
“And they may not want it to end…
But it will…it’s just a question of when”
As much as Patriots fans might hate to admit, the clock started to tick on Brown’s time in New England from the moment he signed. Most wondered whether his antics would cause disruption to a locker room that is typically singular in focus. However, Brown seemed eager to disprove his multitude of doubters. From a purely football perspective, Brown looked to be the ideal soldier. He could be seen working with Tom Brady on the practice field, discussing routes and playmaking strategy. He reportedly stayed as late as 10 p.m. (or later) on most days during the week to catch passes from backup quarterback Jarrett Stidham. In his only game action for the Pats, Brown boasted a respectable stat line of 56 yards on four receptions and one touchdown.
However, the clouds of controversy seemed to hang over Brown like the proverbial ‘Sword of Damocles.’ Just one day after officially signing a one-year, $15 million dollar deal with the Pats (which included a $9 million signing-bonus), reports surfaced that Brown was the subject of a civil lawsuit, which alleged that he had sexually assaulted his former trainer on three separate occasions. On one of those occasions, Brown was accused of “forcible rape.” Based on this development, some speculated whether Brown would play a even single snap in New England.
Despite the reports and impending legal action taken against him, neither the NFL, nor the Patriots levied any disciplinary action against Brown. He was allowed to take the field on Sunday, in the Patriots 43-0 drubbing of the Miami Dolphins. Contrary to the belief of some, the Patriots did monitor the situation, and took it very seriously. Yet, they continued to show trust in Brown by keeping him on the field. By all accounts, it looked to be ‘highly-likely’ that Brown would once again suit up for the Pats this coming Sunday. This time, it would be in front of a hometown Gillette Stadium crowd, as New England prepared to host the New York Jets.
All the while, the catalyst for the end of Brown’s stay in New England was lurking just beneath the surface.
Throughout the week, Sports Illustrated’s Robert Klemko published numerous reports regarding accusations against Brown for domestic incidents, fiscal irresponsibility, and another allegation of sexual misconduct. Much like stiff jabs can stagger a weekend prize fighter, the Klemko reports seemed to act as a countdown clock for Brown’s downfall. However, it should be noted that these reports were mostly attacks on Brown’s character, and likely would not have been enough to warrant the 31 year-old’s placement on the Commissioner-Exempt list. On Friday, Klemko delivered the knockout punch to Brown’s time on the Patriots’ roster. He revealed that Brown had sent ‘intimidating’ text messages to one of his accusers in a group text. As a result, the accuser’s legal team contacted the NFL. The League, in turn, investigated the matter and determined that Brown had, indeed, sent the messages. The texts belittled his accuser’s financial status, as well as the inclusion of a picture of her children. On Friday afternoon, the Patriots announced that they were releasing Brown, after just a little over a week with the team.
Throughout the 11-day ordeal (which was the Antonio Brown-era in New England,) the Patriots were highly criticized by fans and media, (both nationally and locally) alike. Some might argue that this was more than fair, considering that Brown’s reputation and alleged actions should not have even earned him a place on the team. Others might view this as an exercise in journalistic chest-thumping at a national level, sparked by a desire to weaken the NFL’s most hated franchise. However, what cannot be argued is the severity of the accusations against Brown. Sexual assault and personal intimidation have no place in the NFL, or in any walk of life. Brown’s release by the Patriots allows all involved parties to pursue the truth of exactly what has happened in each of these circumstances. After all, Brown has yet to be criminally charged with any acts of threat or violence. That being said, these are serious accusations, which need to be closely examined. For the safety of everyone connected to these incidents, resolutions are both needed and deserved.
Yet, for all intents and purposes, Brown was not removed from the Patriots roster for these individual actions. Any likeness to the Pats actions surrounding the criminal charges brought against the late Aaron Hernandez are simply not applicable in this circumstance. Rather, New England’s actions on Friday were indeed a ‘matter of trust.’ It was clear (whether one agrees or not) that the Patriots were attempting to give Brown the benefit of the doubt. That benefit abruptly ended when Brown could no longer be trusted to keep his maturity and emotions in check. Despite saying that he wanted to ‘focus on ball’ when speaking to the media earlier in the week, it was obvious that Brown had different intentions in his personal life. Unlike each of the previously reported allegations against the problematic wideout, this incident was tangible. It happened on their watch. In its purest form, the team could no longer trust Brown to contain himself and focus purely on football. The risk had finally outweighed the reward. The Patriots had to act, and did so within hours of the report.
As a result, New England heads into their Week Three matchup against the New York Jets with a wide receiving corps that includes Josh Gordon, Julian Edelman, Phillip Dorsett. That is pretty formidable. They will miss Brown’s skills on the field. However, they possess more than enough talent to continue their pursuit of another Super Bowl Championship. Their defense is playing at an elite level, as they continue to dominate their opponents. They continue to employ a strong run game. Lest one forget, they still have Tom Brady taking snaps under center. In short, the Patriots will be just fine on the field.
The true alleviation achieved by Brown’s release will take place in the New England locker room. The Patriots are a franchisee that is well-versed at ignoring distractions. It is certainly telling that the Brown saga was one which proved to be too great to endure any longer. However, the trust that owner Robert Kraft, as well Bill Belichick and his coaching staff, place in their players is a key component of the team’s success. Despite his great talent, Brown simply lacked the necessary maturity to make this work. They simply could no longer trust that Brown would be truthful to them. They may, in fact, question if he ever had been in the first place. One may wonder whether Brown might have had a productive and memorable year in New England if he just could have controlled his emotions long enough to do good instead of harm. At this point, it appears that we will never know.
In the final analysis, this matter needed to come to light. Though it might have been unpleasant, the questions needed to be asked. Antonio Brown’s accusers have the right to be heard to seek justice. Brown, in turn, also has the right to tell his side of the story of, in fact, his name is being besmirched. Perhaps with football behind him, that opportunity will now present itself more completely.
As for the Patriots, some will continue to pontificate on the team’s actions from their ‘keyboard’ of moral authority. The fact of the matter is that the Pats acted in accordance of the cornerstone of their philosophy. They acted in the best interest of the football team. They restored the internal trust between ownership, the coaching staff and the roster of players. Whether others agree with it or not, all else remains nothing more than background noise.
From this point on, the Patriots are on to the Jets, and a Sunday date with their AFC-East rival. For Antonio Brown (once again, in the words of Billy Joel) the “cold remains” from “what began with a passionate start.”
–Mike D’Abate is a Managing Editor and Columnist for Full Press Coverage. He covers the New England Patriots and provides NFL editorial content. He is also the host of the Locked On Patriots podcast. Follow him on Twitter @mdabateFPC