Of course Antonio Brown is a New England Patriot.
Bill Belichick pounced on the opportunity to sign the HOF-gifted yet immensely disruptive wideout almost instantly after he was released by the Raiders on Saturday. Heck, 24-hours before Oakland finally decided to cut ties with Brown, he was apparently set to play for the Jon Gruden's club on Monday Night Football.
This blockbuster move is the last-minute culmination in a wild offseason for Tom Brady's pass-catcher group. Let's speed through the timeline of how the Patriots pass catchers went from, on paper, one of the least-dangerous in the NFL to a rather threatening collection of receivers and tight ends at the horizon of the regular season.
Antonio Brown is joining the Patriots and everyone is freaking the geek out. Is this a vast conspiracy by the Pats to ruin AFC rivals? Will AB be good? Should you trade him in fantasy or ride the wave? Fortunately Will Brinson, Ryan Wilson and John Breech are here to break everything down on the latest episode of the Pick Six Podcast. Listen below and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts:
February 2019 - Julian Edelman's Super Bowl MVP
The Patriots went into their eighth Super Bowl of the Belichick-Brady era with a receiver group consisting of Julian Edelman, Phillip Dorsett, Chris Hogan, and running back hybrid Cordarrelle Patterson. In the defensive struggle against the high-powered Rams, Edelman caught 10 of 12 targets for 141 yards. He was unstoppable. Hogan was targeted a whopping six times without a catch. Dorsett wasn't targeted. Patterson had just two grabs for 14 yards.
Former Super Bowl hero James White had one reception for four yards. Imagine that. But then there was Rob Gronkowski, who was steady as usual then made the biggest play of the game, a diving, 29-yard reception late that led to Super Bowl LIII's only touchdown. Brady finished 21 of 35 for for 261 yards with a pick, so Edelman's MVP award after the Patriots won the title was deserved. Clearly, though, the Patriots wideout contingent was lacking, especially with Josh Gordon away from the team due to suspension.
March 2019 - Net losses
As free agency opened in the middle of March, the Patriots placed a second-round tender on Gordon, all but guaranteeing he'd be back if he was reinstated by the NFL. They re-signed Dorsett, who contributed as a possession wideout in 2018 with 32 snags for 290 yards and three touchdowns. But Patterson inked a deal with the Bears. Hogan departed for the Panthers.
Then, March 24, Gronkowski retired. In late March, Brady's pass-catcher group was Edelman, Dorsett, Maurice Harris, Bruce Ellington, Braxton Berrios, Matthew Slater, Damoun Patterson and tight end Matt LaCosse, who signed a two-year deal earlier in the month. Yikes.
April 2019 - The sign of the major need at receiver
Two weeks before the draft, the Patriots took a flyer on tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins and receiver Demaryius Thomas, the 31-year-old former All-Pro fresh off an Achilles tear with the Texans in 2018. New England had to add to its receiver room. But the additions didn't stop there.
The Patriots had never drafted a first-round wideout in the Belichick-Brady era. The two earliest picks at the position were second-round choices on Chad Jackson (2006) and Deion Branch (2002). But the need was glaringly obvious. Belichick stayed put at No. 32 overall and grabbed Arizona State receiver N'Keal Harry.
The nearly 6-foot-3, 228-pound Harry had been an alpha wideout for the Sun Devils since his true freshman season. He excelled in jump-ball situations and accounted for a very solid 35.9% of the team's receiving yards in his final year. No other pass catcher was selected in New England's 2019 draft.
On April 29, the Patriots traded tight end Jacob Hollister to the Seahawks for a seventh-round pick. After the draft, a productive but seemingly overlooked wideout from North Carolina State Jakobi Meyers was added as an undrafted free agent. Meyers was mostly played second fiddle to sixth-round Redskins pick Kelvin Harmon but had a handful of games in which he outproduced him.
May 2019 - Watson reunion
After retiring in December 2018, tight end Ben Watson decided to return to the NFL and signed with the Patriots on May 10. Watson had 35 catches for 400 yards with two touchdowns in his age-38 season with the Ravens. At this juncture, New England's collection of pass-catchers was considerably better than it was in March, albeit far from spectacular.
In mid-May, Edelman was inked to a two-year extension and veteran Dontrelle Inman was acquired off the free-agent market.
On May 29, Watson announced he'd failed a test for performance enhancing drugs in March. He would be suspended for the first four games of 2019. Seferian-Jenkins was then released in the first week of June.
July-August 2019: Meyers emerges, the return of Gordon
With what appeared to be one of Brady's weakest pass-catching groups in a long time, an undrafted free agent grasped his opportunity to make a case for the 53-man roster early. Meyers stood out from the beginning of training camp through preseason. In four exhibition games, he led the team with an outrageous 20 receptions (on 28 targets) for 253 yards and two touchdowns.
Meyers' emergence coincided with a super-slow start for Harry, who suffered an ankle injury that ultimately landed him on the regular season IR list. But New England's fortunes at the wide receiver spot began to change on August 16, when the NFL conditionally reinstated Gordon from its suspended list.
Inman requested to be released on August 18 and the Patriots granted his wish. He signed with the Chargers two days later.
Thomas flashed with seven catches on eight targets with a score in the preseason yet was somewhat surprisingly released at final cuts.
At tight end, Lance Kendricks joined the team one a one-year deal in late July. Exactly one month later, he was suspended for one game.
September 2019: Antonio. Brown.
Thomas was quickly re-signed to a one-year deal on September 2, and it looked as though the Patriots would enter the 2019 season with him, Gordon, Edelman, Dorsett, Meyers as the primary options at receiver and 2018 seventh-rounder Ryan Izzo and LaCosse at tight end.
But then everything changed. Hours after an unprecedented, unfathomably bizarre saga in Oakland ended with him being released before ever playing a down for the Raiders, Antonio Brown and the Patriots agreed to a one-year, $15 million deal with $9 million guaranteed.
It sent seismic shock waves through the NFL yet felt like what was bound to happen as the Raiders' fiasco intensified heading into Week 1. Brown can't play opening weekend but gives Brady an elite separator who led the NFL in receiving yards two years ago and, despite averaging the lowest yards-per-target figure (7.7) since 2012 last season, had the most receiving touchdowns (15) in 2018. By Week 2, the Patriots will boast Brown, Gordon, Edelman, Dorsett, and Meyers out wide, which represents a mammoth upgrade from what their receiver group looked like after free agency in March. LaCosse, Kendricks and Izzo will be available at tight end, with Watson available to play in Week 5.