There is a strong, if not prevailing, sense among general managers I have reached out to that Antonio Brown will find another team after an unprecedentedly tumultuous and brief tenure with the Raiders.
Brown's, following , made him a free agent able to sign with any club, something several executives suggested to me will happen this week. He won't get anything near the $30 million in potential guarantees he had voided due to his repeated fines and absences in Oakland, and his antics have ruled him out as a potential target in many front offices. But, after canvassing several NFL decisions makers, a small handful of suitors are expected to emerge.
The team most GMs mentioned first was the Patriots, which should come as no surprise. Bill Belichick has shown the ability to handle most any personality, and troubled players have a way of conforming, quickly, within New England's selfless, winning culture. The Patriots could certainly use another pass catcher with their tight end group lacking after Rob Gronkowski's retirement and with receiver N'Keal Harry opening the season on injured reserve. Tom Brady has a way of steadying receivers prone to extremes. And with Brown in need of a major reputation overhaul if he is ever going to earn big money again, there's no better place to do it than on a team that seems to go to the Super Bowl every year.
A move to Foxborough might set Brown up for a chance to get back at the Steelers in the postseason; Pittsburgh was unwilling to entertain trading Brown to the Patriots this offseason for just those reasons. It would be, frankly, a quintessential Belichick move.
"He goes to New England for one year, $3M," one AFC exec said. "Take it to the bank."
"This has Bill (Belichick) written all over it," one GM suggested.
Whether or not the Patriots would want impressionable receivers like Harry, and the long-troubled Josh Gordon, around Brown everyday in the receiver's room remains to be seen. But outlandish antics from a receiver didn't scare him off Randy Moss or Chad Ochocinco, for starters.
Several executives noted Pete Carroll's ability to connect with challenging personalities in Seattle and that franchise's willingness to gamble on guys like Percy Harvin and Marshawn Lynch in the past, and even Brandon Marshall as recently as last season. The Seahawks will research Brown and do some background work from what I gather, so while the odds of signing him may be remote, I wouldn't entirely rule him out.
Other teams believe New Orleans and Washington are potential suitors as well. The Saints did lots of internal work on Brown and heavily discussed trading for him, sources said, with coach Sean Payton highly intrigued. But GM Mickey Loomis did not formally engage the Steelers in trade talks. Washington had interest previously, and Brown's agent Drew Rosenhaus has a strong relationship with owner Dan Snyder. Washington also has a big void of proven playmakers on offense and a particularly suspect receiver group. Snyder's franchise is flailing, with an empty stadium and low fan interest, and making a splash like this would not be out of the question.
"I could see Dan being very interested," said one source who speaks regularly with the owner and has had his ear in the past.
The Bills and Eagles had trade interest in Brown as well early in the process, but Philly has since added DeSean Jackson and used a high pick on a receiver. The team now has almost too many mouths on offense to feed already. I'm told they won't be pursuing Brown. And the Bills had a trade with the Steelers scuttled by Brown's unwillingness to play there, and they added significantly at the position, too. So that's a no-go.
The Browns and Buccaneers were mentioned by other executives as possibilities as well. Cleveland GM John Dorsey is huge on buying low on trouble players -- whether it be through trades, free agency or the draft -- but already has a locker room full of big personalities and one Browns source ruled out a return. And Brown's ties to Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians made him a topic of speculation around the league; however, I'm told there is "no chance" of Tampa Bay pursuing the receiver.
Might a Belichick disciple like Bill O'Brien in Houston (who had been incredibly active of late as the de-facto general manager) or Bob Quinn in Detroit take a page out of their mentor's playbook and dabble with Brown? Some of their peers are wondering.
A few contacts who have talked to Brown over the past few months believe the player will prioritize being in a city that suits him and a team that has a national presence if at all possible ("Can you really see AB in, like, Jacksonville?" as one of them noted). Getting a chance to win and prove people wrong clearly motivates him ("He'll be out to show the haters," as another source who has been in contact with the receiver put it).
It remains to be seen if the market is robust enough for the receiver to rule out any interested party.
Ryan Wilson, John Breech and Sean Wagner-McGough broke down the latest development in the ongoing Brown saga in an emergency Saturday edition of the Pick Six Podcast. Listen below and be sure to subscribe wherever you get your podcasts:
Wherever Brown signs, don't expect to see any signing bonus of significance, and a one-year deal is very likely to be his only option. Several GMs suggested a contract worth at its base $3 million or so, with the ability to earn more money each week he is on the game day roster and with a tier of incentives on top of that that could result in the receiver taking home $10 million or more based on conduct and performance.
Brown earned literally nothing during his tenure with the Raiders, with his $29 million in future guarantees voided. There could be a grievance coming from the NFLPA on his behalf, but even some union sources are skeptical that he will have much of a case. It's also considered a moot point that the Raiders recoup any of the roughly $300,000 in fines against the player, as he will never earn a paycheck there and did not earn his signing bonus, so there is no means to garnish his wages.
What all could agree upon is that a change of scenery and fresh start was badly needed for player and for club, despite such a brief marriage. There won't be any issues about voiding guarantees and jeopardizing future paychecks at his next locale (given the nature of contract he is likely facing), and Brown should be more motivated than ever to salvage his career and contribute on the football field again.
This would have to be, one would think, the nadir for a player whose on-field work is Hall of Fame worthy. He managed to make $30 million disappear in just a matter of days. We'll see how quickly he and Rosenhaus can make a few million more come back.