Amid Antonio Brown’s scorched-earth campaign for a trade from the Pittsburgh Steelers in mid-February, he posted an extended rant on Instagram Live.
“Just know my actions will speak louder than my words,” Brown said. “Just know I’m one of the greatest to ever do it. Trust me. Trust me. If your team got guaranteed money, tell them call me. I ain’t doing no more unguaranteed money.”
Brown publicly and repeatedly stated that he wanted to leave Pittsburgh because the Steelers were unwilling to give him guaranteed money beyond the 2019 season. It’s a real concern: The dollar amounts on NFL contracts are fairy dust except for the guaranteed money, and the Steelers have a policy of not guaranteeing money more than one year out. Brown did everything possible to get more by acting out, seemingly destroying his reputation, but when he was dealt to Oakland he got exactly what he wanted in a new contract that paid $30 million in guaranteed at signing, 50 percent more than he got in his deal with the Steelers. Despite the bleached-blond mustache and The Masked Singer and his Instagram rants, it seemed that Brown had won his fight with the Steelers front office.
In a Shakespearean turn, Brown is now in danger of unguaranteeing that money because he threatened to fight the Raiders’ front office. Brown reportedly confronted Raiders general manager Mike Mayock and was held back by multiple teammates Wednesday, according to Vic Tafur of The Athletic. He’s now facing a team-levied suspension of unknown length that could void the guarantees in his new contract, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
The Next Chapter: Antonio Brown and GM Mike Mayock got into it Wednesday, and the team is now planning to suspend its star wide receiver, league sources tell ESPN.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) September 5, 2019
There have been many chapters in this story—the frostbite prologue, which we explain here, and the helmet saga, which we explain here—but the latest dispute began when Brown posted a letter from Mayock on his Instagram Story Wednesday night.
The letter says that the team had fined Brown for some of the days he missed when he refused to wear a league-approved helmet. The absences do not include the practices he missed to heal his feet earlier in training camp when he suffered frostbite from wearing improper footwear in a cryotherapy chamber. Yes, that’s a real sentence.
All training camp and preseason, Jon Gruden played the good cop while Mayock—who, in an unusual arrangement, is the GM but works for Gruden—played bad cop. This letter was the latest example. Mayock reportedly was unhappy that Brown posted the letter publicly, and reports surfaced Thursday morning that there was an in-person altercation in which Brown was held back from the general manager. The timeline of whether the Instagram Story happened before or after the altercation is unclear.
Antonio Brown was unhappy about being fined and had an exchange with #Raiders general manager Mike Mayock on Wednesday. He was held back by a couple of teammates, sources said, and is now facing a team suspension.— Vic Tafur (@VicTafur) September 5, 2019
According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, Brown and Mayock did reportedly scream at one another after which Brown threatened to hit Mayock in the face, punted a football, and said, “Fine me for that.”
The Raiders could do more than fine him. In Mayock’s letter regarding the fine, he said that the team has not ruled out “additional fines and discipline for engaging in Conduct Detrimental to the Club.” The specific term “conduct detrimental to the club” matters dearly. Teams often build language into contracts that guaranteed money is voided (i.e., converted into regular unprotected salary) with certain suspensions, such as the one Brown could face. Oakland has already paid the receiver a $1 million signing bonus, so if the team cuts him today without suspending him, it would still owe him $29 million. But if the guaranteed money is voided, then the Raiders could cut him and pay him nothing. In fact, they could pay him nothing and then ask for the signing bonus back. But to recoup the full amount they’ll have to release or suspend him before their game Monday, according to former general manager Mike Tannenbaum, so they’ll have to decide soon.
On Thursday morning Pacific Time, Mayock addressed reporters with a short statement and took no questions.
“Antonio Brown is not in the building today,” Mayock said. “He won’t be practicing. I don’t have any more information for you right now, and when I have some and it becomes appropriate you guys [will] all get it. I promise you. But that’s it for today. Thank you.”
Short and sweet from #Raiders GM Mike Mayock: “Antonio Brown is not in the building today. He won’t be practicing.” Mayock says when the time is appropriate he’ll share more information. @nflnetwork pic.twitter.com/tIoCsGtano— MJ Acosta (@MJAcostaTV) September 5, 2019
There’s a lot we don’t know here, including key details about Brown and Mayock’s meeting on Wednesday and whether the Raiders would void his guaranteed money if given the option, to say nothing of the countless details we could have learned on HBO’s Hard Knocks if Gruden and the Raiders had not presumably censored the show so heavily. But teams come after guaranteed money for incidents far more benign than threatening to punch the GM. It’s certainly in play that the Raiders, who gave up only third- and fifth-rounders for Brown in March, will decide to part with him before he ever plays a down for them to avoid this season becoming more of a circus than it’s already been.
Just a few months ago, the Steelers were lambasted for eating more than $21 million of cap space and taking just two mid-round picks to trade Brown, who has more receiving yards in the last five years than any receiver in any five-year span in NFL history. Now, hours before the season begins, Pittsburgh GM Kevin Colbert looks like a genius. Gruden, meanwhile, is learning one of the all-time be careful what you wish for lessons for a trade. Gruden’s Raiders have given a third-round pick to Pittsburgh for a receiver in each of the last two years: Brown this year and the perpetually suspended Martavis Bryant in 2018. Bryant had 19 catches for 266 yards in Oakland before being suspended indefinitely again last year. Incredibly, that could be more than Brown ever contributes to the Raiders. The chaos is a disastrous start to the second-year of a 10-year, $100 million contract that makes Gruden virtually unfireable. One of Gruden’s chief priorities long term was to change the team’s culture. Mission accomplished.
The true lead character in this tragicomedy is Brown. All of this started because he wasn’t “doing no more unguaranteed money.” That could be the way it will end too.