Antonio Brown

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.

Pittsburgh Steelers adjusting to life without Antonio Brown

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LATROBE, Pa. — So I got here two days too soon. I arrived in camp last Wednesday, just before the Antonio Brown explosion out in Oakland. I doubt they’d have piled on their alumni receiver, because it’s not the Steeler Way, but it’d have been fun to try to get the vets here to say something. Imagine what they were thinking over the weekend: Man, we’re so glad we don’t have the Antonio drama anymore.

I’ve come to this training camp most years since 1984. It’s amazing how little has changed. Chuck Noll was in the middle of his 23-year run then, and reporters could actually visit players in their dorm room at St. Vincent College. (I knocked on Mike Webster’s door that year and spent a pleasant 30 minutes with him.) Then Bill Cowher, starting in 1992; once, because of a soggy main field, unwilling to cancel practice that day, Cowher had a practice on the little-used upper field bordering a corn field. I thought it would be cool to see Jerome Bettis and Levon Kirkland walk out to practice Field of Dreams-style, through the cornstalks. And now, Mike Tomlin runs the show, and he did the other day what he’s always done—hooted and hollered at the one-on-one drills, offensive line versus defensive line. Tomlin’s been a prototype Steelers coach, because he loves traditional football and traditional football practices. And traditional winning.

The Steelers have been here every summer since 1966. This practice was the first one in a while that I did not see the brown-robed monks out at practice, mingling with the Rooneys. Joe Greene never had training camp anywhere else. Nor has JuJu Smith-Schuster.

Last year felt like mayhem from the start, with the Le’Veon Bell holdout marring the start and the Brown no-show in Week 17 marring the finish. Something had to give. That something was letting Bell walk, and the trade of Brown to Oakland. I think the Steelers are better off without both. James Conner (5.4 yards per touch in 2018) was a suitable but not perfect sub for Bell, and Conner and JuJu Smith-Schuster, the amiable and totally non-controversial wideout, give Ben Roethlisberger the kind of team-first weapons Tomlin loves. I found it interesting that Roethlisberger has been talking up Ryan Switzer, the well-traveled (for 24) wideout/returner as a potential big weapon on an Edelman scale. At the afternoon practice, there was Switzer as a sidecar to Roethlisberger running a wheel route out of the backfield, as well as in both slot and wide formations. So we’ll see about the former Cowboy and Raider. The Steelers need young James Washington or veteran Donte Moncrief to produce too. Also: Vance McDonald, who has a Gronk-type stiff arm and isn’t afraid to use it (50 catches, 12.2 yards per catch last year), should see expanded importance at tight end.

I’m bullish on the Steelers and the cheerful/optimistic Roethlisberger—who, camp observes say, has been genuinely happy this summer—having a prolific season again. Did you know he led the NFL with 5,129 passing yards last year—774 more than Tom Brady, 1,137 more than Drew Brees? It’s understandable that he will miss the great Brown, but I also am told he is supremely motivated to prove he can be just as great without Brown than he was with him.

Pittsburgh’s got an interesting season ahead, in many ways. The schedule, for one. Six 2018 playoff teams in the first nine games, including the opening Sunday night in Foxboro. But only one 2018 playoff team in the last seven weeks. Much of that late-season fortunate scheduling depends on the Browns, because Pittsburgh plays Cleveland on Nov. 14 and Dec. 1.

Read more from Football Morning in America here

Let us count the ways Steelers are damaged from Antonio Brown trade

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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.

Yet, it’s a little simpler for the Steelers, who are damaged. In many ways:

1. Getting third-round and fifth-round picks (66th and 141st) for the best receiver in football over the past six years is absurd. “When I saw the compensation this morning,” ex-Steeler Ryan Clark said Sunday evening, “I was shocked. This is the best receiver in football over the last six years. Oakland had the draft capital to pay a fair price for Antonio.” Credit to Raider negotiator and new GM Mike Mayock for taking a hard line on the trade, but think of this compensation. Put together, the value isn’t even of a top 50 draft choice. That’s awful.

2. The $21.1 million in dead 2019 cap money by trading Brown—11.2 percent of the Pittsburgh salary cap—is a paralyzing effect on the Steelers, obviously.

3. Two straight years, two straight mega-stars slap the Steelers in the face. Pittsburgh couldn’t find a way to make Le’Veon Bell play in 2018, and 2019 is off to a terrible start with the Brown subtraction. I asked Clark what he thought the moral of the story was. “Never be held captive by a player,” said Clark, now an ESPN analyst. “The limbo of Le’Veon Bell, in an organization that prides itself on being drama-free, played a role in the Antonio story. They just didn’t want another year of that.”

4. Mike Tomlin takes a big hit. Great coaches have to find a way to handle big and divisive personalities, and Brown drove a wedge into Tomlin’s team, and Tomlin couldn’t stop it. Tomlin’s going to have to examine how he handled Brown over the years, and be sure he doesn’t make the same mistakes with the next angry star—even if that means letting the guy walk before he can do the damage Brown did.

5. Two years ago, you could argue the Steelers had the best back in football and the best receiver in football, playing at their peaks. What do they have to show for that? For Bell, nothing for now—though they could get a Compensatory Pick in 2020 for him depending on their activity in free agency this spring. For Brown, two mid-round draft choices, and a $21-million anchor on their cap. Not good. Not good at all.

For one of the flagship franchises in the NFL, this has been an ugly last half-year.

Read more from Football Morning in America here