Something's afoot with Antonio Brown.
The seven-time Pro Bowl wide receiver is carrying the hopes of the Oakland Raiders on his shoulders, after heading west following a trade that sent a 2019 third- and fifth-round selection to the Pittsburgh Steelers in exchange for his talents. That occurred in March, and with deafening fanfare, but the cheers are slowly devolving into questions about his availability going into the 2019 season. Brown has not participated in 10 of the 11 Raiders' training camp practices, and for one of the oddest reasons you'll ever hear -- having suffered severe frostbite on the soles of his feet caused by wearing inappropriate footwear in a cryotherapy machine.
But wait, there's more.
It appears that an issue with his helmet could tie into an absence that was previously thought to be solely based upon his feet, with details of just how irate Brown has become about his headwear being made public. And according to ESPN's Adam Schefter, the issue around his helmet is important enough to Brown that he won't play if he doesn't get his wish:
And now this: Raiders’ WR Antonio Brown has told team officials that, unless he gets to wear his old helmet, he will not play football again, per league sources.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) August 9, 2019
The unabashedly verbose Brown reportedly made his disdain for the new helmet known back in OTAs, per NFL insider Michael Silver, which led to an early wedge being driven between the mercurial wideout and the coaching staff. It's believed this also plays a part in why Brown is purportedly "staying away" from Napa -- where the Raiders are holding training camp -- with at least one person calling Brown's helmet tirade "the most insane thing I've ever heard," per Silver.
When told in May of the new rule and how he'd no longer be able to wear his old helmet, Brown reportedly accused quarterbacks Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers of defying the rule, and believed he should be allowed to as well. Brown reportedly stormed out of the facility and Raiders officials later sent him footage via text of Brady and Rodgers at practice in the new league-mandated helmets. Things cooled noticeably the following day, and Brown began wearing the new helmet, but he had a trick up his sleeve.
Over the next couple of weeks, it was discovered Brown had again attempted to take the field with his old helmet -- this time spray-painted to mirror the new one, per Silver. He was again told it was not allowed and replaced it with the new version. Fast forward to training camp in Napa and the issue again surfaced. At camp, Brown attempted to sneak his old helmet onto the field, as he did in May, but was again caught and chastised by the Raiders.
"He's still freaking out about it," an unnamed Raiders player told Silver. "He hasn't been here for awhile, and no one knows where he's at."
The lengthy oddity of a story continues by describing how Brown routinely uses devices to distract himself during team meetings, by looking through bank accounts and double-tapping Instagram images. While that can be viewed as unacceptable behavior, especially for a veteran player who the organization looks upon to set an example, the unbridled attempts at circumventing league policy regarding the helmet combine with the cryotherapy mishap to scroll Instagram during a meeting look mostly inconsequential.
And so, we come to Brown's potential retirement if the helmet issue doesn't go his way. This would be historically bad news for Oakland, but it would at least allow them to recover some or all of the near $15 million Brown is set to earn this season. Sitting out with the injury to his feet would protect his salary, but holding out to prevent complying with a league rule would not. The exception here is if the Raiders place him on the non-football injury list, which would relieve their obligation to pay him a single cent this season, per Over The Cap.
The Raiders would rather have him on the field, though, because they can't recover the two draft picks they gave up for him.
If Brown wins in arbitration regarding the helmet, the ruling will open up the floodgates for every other player who takes issue with the new helmet regulations. If he loses, however, the Raiders will now be forever concerned about Brown's repeated attempts at sneaking in his old helmet -- teams are subject to penalty from the league office if they're found to not be in compliance. That punishment could amount to sizable fines or worse, but it's pretty obvious Brown either isn't taking that into account, or he simply doesn't care.
Then again, he might simply retire, and if somehow the helmet situation is resolved -- there's still the matter of his feet.
That's the only part of the Brown foot saga that is concrete thus far, because the timeline for his return from the injury itself sure isn't. Initially, it was reported the 31-year-old Chase Williams of WPXI in Pittsburgh., and a recent -- also nauseating -- Instagram image of the soles of his feet supported that claim. From there, it was claimed Brown had begun ignoring the Raiders' brass altogether, going "radio silent" and leaving the organization with "zero clue" about the progress of his foot, or lack thereof -- per
Not long after Williams' claim, an alternate report directly refuted it, with Michael Gehlken of the Las Vegas Review-Journal labeling Williams' report as false, and citing a team source that says there have been conversations with Brown and that he is expected to return "in the near future". While there's still no date attached to the eventual return, it does sound more promising than having the recently-acquired No. 1 wideout -- who is set to earn upwards of $14.96 million in 2019 -- supposedly ghost coaches and team execs during training camp.
That is, of course, assuming the report that refutes the other report holds true. At this point, all the Raiders can do is remain in contact with Brown and wait for his feet to heal fully. They hope that's soon because Brown will be needed on an offensive unit that was anything but impressive last season.
When the six-time All-Pro does eventually suit up, there's a new matter he'll be contending with -- this time against the league itself. Brown has reportedly filed a grievance against the NFL over rules that will not permit him to wear the helmet of his choosing, but rather the one mandated by commissioner Roger Goodell and the National Operating Committee for Standards and Athletic Equipment, per Adam Schefter of ESPN. The league installed new rules for 2019 that impacted several top players and will force Brown out of the helmet he's played in his entire career.
A hearing is expected within the next several days, and an arbitrator will determine if Brown is forced into the new helmet. Where this story goes from there, or from any angle, is anyone's guess.
From an uncomfortable cranium to frostbitten feet, Brown literally has issues from head to toe in 2019, and it's only August.