Antonio Brown’s a great fit with Raiders due to Jon Gruden’s street cred

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SEATTLE — Quite a weekend. You probably needed much of Sunday to digest the Antonio Brown trade. I know I did. So much to unpack, really.

I think of Pittsburgh’s trade of Brown to the Raiders for third-round and fifth-round picks the way I think of a college class. You get the syllabus on day one, with 15 compartmentalized lectures, all of them with tributaries that make the class so involved and complex.

With Brown, there are so many angles.

Here is a look at just a few of them, including why Brown is a great fit in Oakland. (Read about more angles of the trade here).

• Talent always wins. John Elway got trashed as a selfish guy coming out of Stanford in 1983, saying he wouldn’t play for Baltimore. Eli Manning got trashed the same way in 2004 saying he wouldn’t play for the Chargers. Deion Sanders invented a persona (Prime Time), found a way to moonlight with baseball as the best cornerback in football, then cashed in multiple times using one team against another in free agency.

Add Antonio Brown to that list now. Brown seemingly eviscerated his market in the last 10 weeks, since going AWOL from the Steelers in the final game of the season, then making a series of one-more-bizarre-than-the-other statements on TV and social media. But as one team executive told me Sunday, “The best players, even the a——, always have a market.” Elway found a team, and peace, and won two Super Bowls. Manning found a team, and peace, and won two Super Bowls. Sanders found multiple teams and broke the bank, and is the most accomplished multi-sport athlete of this time. Brown is a strange guy, but strange guys with six years straight of 100 receptions are going to have options. In this case, one good one.

• Gruden’s a good landing spot. The Raiders have been a willy-nilly trade-and-dump team in Gruden’s 14 months in office. With some reservations—mostly monetary—I’ll say this is a win. “One thing I know,” said Rich Gannon, who was a league MVP playing for Gruden in his first Raider stint, “is Jon loves these kinds of players. He’s got street cred with them. He’s done it with Andre Rison, Jerry Rice, Tim Brown, Sterling Sharpe, John Jett, Keyshawn Johnson … He’ll tell Antonio, ‘I’ll get you your 1,500 yards, your 120 balls, and here’s what you have to do for me.’ There are things Antonio will have to be accountable for. But honestly, I don’t think Jon will have a problem with him. And remember: Jon came up in the league coaching this position. He’ll be coaching Antonio a lot during the season.”

Bold prediction, though Gannon is a big Gruden guy. I do wonder two things: How will Brown handle losing, if the Raiders continue on that path? (Steelers regular season wins per year since Brown entered the league in 2010: 10.5. Raiders: 6.2.) And what happens if there’s a quarterback shakeup this year or next, and Derek Carr leaves and a rookie steps in? Is Brown going to be a steadying force in an unstable situation to help turn the team around? Those are legit questions. Brown was a great player and his work ethic a good example for young players. He’ll have a lot of young kids looking up to him now, and he can’t be the incendiary device he was in Pittsburgh.

• Brown’s a classic Raider. Over the years, so many players the rest the league either didn’t want or thought were kaput found their way to Oakland. Some flourished, some withered. But there’s always been a WELCOME sign in the Black Hole for players like Brown. Right now there’s so much pressure on Gruden to show he’s worth $100 million, and to breathe life into a lousy team, and to show Las Vegas it’s getting a premier team. The marriage, on the surface, makes sense. The football world’s first reaction when it looked like Brown was headed to Buffalo was, What a bummer. Brown with the Bills—that’s no fun. But Oakland is another story, as is Vegas in 2020. Now the players in this drama—Brown and Gruden most notably, and Tomlin righting the shaky ship at the confluence of the Three Rivers—have to play their parts.

Read more from Football Morning in America here

Why Texans need to trade for Redskins’ Trent Williams now

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Three Things I Think

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Three quick thoughts:

1. I think my everlasting memory of this trip will be watching J.J. Watt steam in from Aaron Rodgers’ left side on a live pass-rush drill (well, full-speed, but no hitting the quarterback in a camp practice) in the Texans-Packers joint practices. He jousted with left tackle David Bakhtiari, dipped to the outside, got half a step on the left tackle, and sprinted at Rodgers. Watt meant it. As did Rodgers, who sprinted up the right side and evaded Watt. First time Watt ever stepped foot in Wisconsin to play pro football (though a practice), and he got emotional about it, and it meant a lot to him. Two Hall of Fame players going at it on a Monday morning in northeast Wisconsin. Loved it.

2. I think the Texans need to trade for Washington left tackle Trent Williams, who is unhappy in Washington and threatening to not play this year. Houston’s time is now. Watt turns 30 this year. So much of this team is in its prime. They could get three or four more years out of Williams, who turns 31 next Monday, and he’d strengthen the only true weak point of this team.

3. I think I marvel at DeAndre Hopkins and found it compelling to just watch him practice in Green Bay. He even dropped a pass over the middle. Consider that last year he became the first receiver since drop stats were kept—at least 13 years—to catch at least 110 balls without a drop. “Why do you think people don’t really know that?” he asked me after practice, a bit annoyed. I don’t know, but I do know Hopkins is the best wideout in football by almost any measure. “There are games, like against Philly last year, when he gets his jersey ripped off,” coach Bill O’Brien said. “Teams are so physical with him. What makes him special is so many plays are contested. People are draped on him, and he comes down with it.” With wideout injuries last year, Houston saw a weird three-man coverage at times on Hopkins, “cut coverage,” O’Brien called it, with a linebacker undercutting him near the line of scrimmage before he would get out in the open field and face two cover guys. I asked Hopkins how he worked on his hands as a kid. Jerry Rice tossed and caught bricks with his dad, a mason. Hopkins: “This is something I haven’t told many people, because it’s embarrassing,” he said. “We always used to catch flies with our hands. I was the only one who could catch ‘em. One-handed, two-handed. I actually studied flies. I’d watch ‘em. How do you catch flies? They fly up. If I can catch that, I can catch anything.”

Why Antonio Brown is crazy to fight NFL over helmet issue

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Regarding the Mike Silver/Adam Schefter-reported stories Friday about the melodrama surrounding the Oakland receiver—or, I should say, the receiver employed by Oakland who is not currently playing for Oakland—the overriding thought I have is a simple one. The NFL and the NFLPA have teamed up to research helmet safety and helmet technology through exhaustive, independent studies since 2016. All players were told in 2017 they’d have to wear new helmets—league and union-approved—by 2018, with a one-year grandfather period pushing the absolute deadline to don correct helmets to 2019. I did a podcast about the helmet in May, and over the previous seven months talked to 14 players about the helmet issue. Several of the players weren’t crazy about making the change, including 49ers tackle Joe Staley, who’d worn the same model of helmet for 15 years (though it had been updated at least once) and admitted to me he would not have changed unless forced.

“It’s something that needs to be done,” Staley told me last fall, “and I think I’m a perfect case study of why it needs to be done. I wouldn’t have changed my helmet unless they made these rules changes.”

For Brown to be fighting this is just crazy. According to Schefter, Brown had a two-hour grievance hearing Friday with an independent arbitrator, arguing that he should be able to wear a helmet he has been wearing for more than 10 years. (That, in itself, makes the helmet illegal; the NFL mandates that helmets worn for at least 10 years be replaced, regardless of their condition.)

There isn’t much the league and players union agree on without reservation, but the current helmet protocol, the outgrowth of a $60-million investment by NFL owners in 2016 to improve helmet technology and reduce head trauma in players, is one of those things. If Brown wins, he would be the lone player out of 2,016 active and practice-squad players in the NFL this season who would be wearing a helmet—the Schutt Air Advantage, in his case—not approved for use by NFL and NFLPA testers. And this helmet is so old that it’s not even been tested by the league and the union. I’m told unquestionably it would fail any test for helmet safety, as would virtually any helmet not made in the last four or five years.

A few other thoughts on this nutty story:

• Brown has to grow up, or he’s got to get some help. Someone in his life, if anyone has a scintilla of influence over him (and that is in doubt), needs to say to him: The Raiders could void your contract for this behavior, and you’d be out $30.1 million in guaranteed money, and what team would pay you even a fraction of that after? You walked out on the Steelers and then turned into a child on the Raiders and boycotted them too—in the span of nine months!

• The Steelers have to be the happiest team in the league right now. They don’t have a great player, but they do have a sane, undivided training camp.

Jon Gruden has to defend Brown, which he did Saturday night after the Raiders’ preseason win over the Rams. But anyone who knows Gruden knows he’s got to be frustrated over his best offensive weapon being disabled because of the freaky frostbite injury and fuming at Brown being AWOL because the NFL is trying to make football safer for him.

• To be a fly on GM Mike Mayock’s wall. He’s a football purist, and his first season piloting a storied franchise might be sent over a cliff by the weirdest controversy in years that has incredibly little to do with real football.

• Mike Silver’s 20-tweet thread detailing the Brown story Friday was exquisite. Best football thread I’ve seen, full of rich detail and information about the dysfunctional Brown/Raiders/helmet thing. What was great about Silver’s long social screed: It was essentially an 800-word news story, broken in real time on Twitter instead of being broken on NFL.com with a Twitter link to the story. Whatever the reason for doing it that way (NFL.com I’m sure now regrets the loss of traffic on a heavily read story), I found it easy to digest just by scrolling up on my phone. Silver had the helmet stuff solid, and this piece of information that can’t go on in team meetings: “Brown, according to witnesses, typically glances at the screens of several tablets and his smart phone during meetings, distracting himself by engaging in activities which include perusing his bank accounts and ‘liking’ photos on Instagram.” Social media is still the Wild West, but Silver showed you can break news with a story broken into 20 easy bites.

• “Hard Knocks” is either going to show a slice of this Brown story this week, with some real video and team reaction, or it’s Pravda. And I know Ken Rodgers of NFL Films, the curator of this show. He will want to show the real story, very much.

I’ve been around a lot of crazy stories in the NFL in my 35 years covering the league. But the last nine months in the life of Antonio Brown is right up there.


One more thing from Kearse: “The NFL changed the rules to prevent more head injuries and more head contact. But at the end of the day it’s a full-contact sport and guys are kind of making quick decisions, and you want to be able to have a product that’s going to be able to protect you. I think the NFL wants this league to last. They’re going to have to continue to keep digging deeper to improve. It’s an uncontrolled environment where things can happen and for me personally, I want to have the best protecting me out there.”

Someone’s got to get to Brown, and fast.