Update: The Patriots have released Antonio Brown, the team announced on Friday. You can read more about Brown's 11 days with the Patriots and what his release means for the player and team moving forward right here.
Original: With Week 3 of the NFL season rapidly approaching, the Patriots are facing yet another unusual roster decision with Antonio Brown. And Bill Belichick's comments on the matter Friday did not make things much clearer as to whether the Patriots wide receiver will play for the team on Sunday or remain on the roster moving forward.
Belichick, speaking for roughly 3 minutes and 30 seconds with the New England media on Friday, declined to answer any questions about Brown amid new allegations of "intimidation" from an accuser. Those allegations surfaced on Thursday night in an article from Robert Klemko of Sports Illustrated. Klemko's story involves text messages -- which Klemko verified are from the receiver -- sent to the accuser that could qualify as "intimidating" and potentially bring into the play the NFL's personal conduct policy.
Naturally, reporters had questions for Belichick about the topic on Friday afternoon. And unsurprisingly, Belichick was not answering them. The Pats signed AB roughly 10 days ago, and shortly thereafter, a civil lawsuit was filed against Brown alleging sexual assault and rape. In the wake of that lawsuit and the upcoming matchup against the Dolphins, Belichick was not inclined to answer much about the receiver.
On Friday, he was even more curt when it came to taking questions. He "answered" six questions and on the seventh inquiry from a reporter about the situation, Belichick cut the reporter off and exited stage left. Here's a transcript of the podium session:
Q: As far as your work with Antonio in football, do the off-field allegations, accusations complicate your ability to coach him, your feelings about him personally?
BB: "When we work on football, we work on football."
Q: Can you talk about Antonio's roll this weekend?
BB: "Uh, no. I'm not going to get into that. We're going to do what's best for the team like we always do."
Q: How do you weigh with your players their performance on the field with their behavior off the field and what's best for the team overall?
BB: That's a big picture question. We answer it the best we can. There's no set formula.
Q: How important is the behavior off the field?
BB: "Everything's important."
Q: Do you expect to have Antonio available to you on Sunday?
BB: "He's on our roster."
Q: Another headline today focusing on Antonio Brown. Does any of this at all affect his status with the team?
BB: "I think I've already addressed this. We're going to get ready for the Jets here. Happy to answer any football questions. The rest of it -- I'm done with the rest of it."
Q: Was there ever a point where some of the off field stuff--
BB: "So, yup. That's, yeah, I'm good, thank you. I think we had enough of it."
You can see the full press conference here:
Bill Belichick Live Press Conference 9/20: https://t.co/hXlErSaCa5— New England Patriots (@Patriots) September 20, 2019
There obviously isn't much to digest here. But it is notable that Belichick did not affirm that Antonio Brown would be available to the Patriots on Sunday. I don't know what the Pats will do but it's not out of the realm of possibility that Brown is released by the team this afternoon or before the game on Sunday. Monday is Sept. 23, which means the first portion of Brown's roster bonus is due. If the Patriots are concerned they can't handle the distraction that Brown brings on a long-term basis, cutting him now would be more sensible than paying him $5 million to try and go forward.
That's just a thought/theory/whatever you want to call it. Reading too much into Belichick's short answers is risky. Maybe we should have seen this coming. Belichick said he would not be answering questions about Brown's off-field issues. But it's clear the new story from Klemko played a role in this: Belichick referenced "some things we're looking into" when opening his press conference on Friday.
"I know there are questions about Antonio. We take all the situations with our team very seriously," Belichick said to open his presser. "And there are some things we're looking into. I'm not going to comment on any off-the-field situations."
Last we checked, the NFL was investigating Brown and speaking to his accuser in the civil case. If Belchick was referencing anything that happened prior to Thursday night, he simply would have couched the discussion around the NFL's investigation.
And while we know that the NFL probably isn't, at least before this week, going to put Brown on the commissioner's exempt list because of the civil lawsuit, it's possible these new revelations/accusations could drastically swing the pendulum.
The NFL's personal conduct policy states implicitly that it is not required for a player to be convicted of a crime to be punished. And the specific language from the CBA that should concern Brown and the Patriots involves a portion of the policy where the league writes that players are "subject to discipline" for absolutely calls for a possible discipline based on "stalking, harassment, or similar forms of intimidation."
According to Klemko's story, the attorney for the anonymous accuser sent an email to the NFL in which the attorney, Lisa J. Banks, said the woman is "frightened" by the messages which she believes are "intended to threaten and intimidate her."
"Our client ... is understandably frightened by these text messages, which are clearly intended to threaten and intimidate her," Brown wrote to the NFL, per Klemko. "While she certainly qualifies as a 'starving artist,' she has never approached Mr. Brown, nor will she, about seeking money to compensate her for his sexual misconduct, contrary to his allegations in the text messages."
Based on simply the language involved here and the allegations at hand, the NFL could absolutely consider utilizing the Commissioner's Exempt List on Brown. Before it was probably off the table, but that is not the case now.
Additionally, Klemko reported that Darren Heitner, Brown's attorney, told Sports Illustrated "he had not advised Brown to communicate with the woman" in question.
These are all allegations, but they are part of a bigger story and they present a new layer of information for both the NFL and the Patriots to consider with a Week 3 game on the immediate horizon.