The Buccaneers welcomed troubled receiver Antonio Brown to the organization this week a year after multiple members of the organization vowed publicly and privately never to do so, raising some eyebrows around the league. The difference, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the situation, was the presence of Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady, who advocated strongly and consistently for the signing.
Tampa Bay did not entertain bringing the former All-Pro in last season during his many bizarre scenarios that resulted in him being available via trade or free agency multiple times. Coach Bruce Arians has a distinct knowledge of the player from his long tenure coaching in Pittsburgh, and bringing in Brown was viewed as a non-starter in 2019.
"No (expletive) way does he get in this building," said one team source last year.
However, Brady has been pushing to reunite with Brown at multiple spots, and with him eligible for reinstatement to the NFL from his eight-game suspension, the quarterback was very vocal about his desire to play with Brown again in hopes of winning a Super Bowl. Brady played one game with Brown in New England last year before the player was released amid more reports of serious allegations against him from multiple women, leading to a social media outburst attacking Patriots owner Bob Kraft.
Brady urged team officials to strongly consider bringing Brown back before the playoffs, with the Patriots short of offensive talent, and made it known he felt the receiver was necessary to fortify a postseason run.
"There is one reason he's there: Tom Brady," said one source who was involved in Brown's free-agent pursuits.
Brady was the driving force for the Bucs signing longtime teammate Rob Gronkowski in the offseason, and the franchise is all-in trying to win a Super Bowl this year with the 43-year old quarterback. The Seahawks were the other team most closely courting Brown, league sources said, and had longstanding interest in him since his release by the Patriots, with their star quarterback Russell Wilson also trying to recruit him. Brown ultimately chose Tampa. No teams were offering more than a veteran-minimum structured deal, plus incentives, sources said, given Brown's disturbing past.
That past is now under more scrutiny than ever with Brown back in the league after a long exodus and going to a team that already has two elite receivers. How he fits in is an open question, and whether he can steer clear of violating the personal conduct policy again is very much in doubt. Players are under more restrictions than ever before in regards to their actions and behavior given the NFL/NFLPA COVID-19 protocols that are in place.
"Mark my words, it's going to be a problem," said an executive who has significant experience working with Brown. "I give it a week to 10 days before he's late for the COVID test or doesn't totally follow protocol. You have no idea the stories we could tell you about this guy. Everything is a struggle.
"And then once he gets comfortable there, forget about it. Anything goes. This is a new world that is totally foreign to him and with what's being asked of players now. Good luck. There were plenty of valid reasons why [Arians] didn't want anything to do with him a year ago. Unless this guy has completely reinvented himself, and done a complete turnaround, this is going to get ugly."
Added another coach who was with Brown extensively echoed that sentiment.
"All the reasons [Arians] didn't want this guy a year ago, he knows what's up with him," the coach said. "And that was before COVID. The stuff he'd do all the time in Pittsburgh -- he'd go AWOL, not show up, have no idea where he is ... that could (mess up) the entire team, now."