To hear the murmurs of executives around the NFL and the cries of conspiracy from national broadcasters, New England’s signing of wide receiver Antonio Brown may be the biggest sham perpetrated against the Raiders by the Patriots since January 19, 2002.
You do remember the Tuck Rule, right? The league eventually changed that ridiculous rule – but only after it allowed the Patriots to move on to their first of six Super Bowl victories following a 16-13 overtime victory in that Divisional Playoff game. That happened to be Jon Gruden’s final game in his first term as Raiders coach. So much has happened since then, including fines against the Patriots for Spygate, Inflategate and several other infractions where they push the envelope to get an edge.
Now we hear questions whether the NFL should look into Browngate, as it were. Others, including many former Raiders and their fans, say good riddance.
As he departed Foxborough Monday, agent Drew Rosenhaus tried to deny claims that the wide receiver’s jump from the Raiders to the Patriots was orchestrated. He was hammered by questions from Max Kellerman on First Take after already being put under suspicion Sunday by FOX broadcasters Terry Bradshaw, Howie Long and NFL Insider Jay Glazer.
Turns out that the new contract, reportedly originally to be worth $15 million for one year with $9 million guaranteed, also includes an option for another $20 million guaranteed in the next two years. That is eerily close to the $30 million Brown was guaranteed with the Raiders (total $50 million, three years), until the player demanded and received his release Saturday. Exact terms of the Patriots contract are not known, but you can bet they include safeguards for the team.
Furthermore, Rosenhaus, who admits he has done a lot of business with the Patriots “for 30 years,” was well aware that New England offered the Steelers a first round draft pick for Brown last spring, but it was rejected because Pittsburgh didn’t want to face him on that team (the Pats beat the Steelers, 33-3 Sunday night).
Instead, the Steelers took third and fifth-round picks from the Raiders. After that, all hell broke loose with frostbitten feet, rejected helmets, absences, a verbal assault on GM Mike Mayock, an “emotional apology” to the team followed by a secretly recorded conversation with coach Jon Gruden that went on social media. Then came the fines, notice that his guarantees would be voided, followed by Brown’s demand for a release, which the Raiders obliged Saturday.
With all that in mind, on Monday's First Take, Kellerman asked Rosenhaus why anybody should not believe that “The Fix” was in, suggesting that the agent and somebody with the Patriots, say head honcho Bill Belichick, might have orchestrated the entire move.
“Because it’s the truth,” insisted Rosenhaus via a hand-held device shared with the First Take show and aired live. “What else can you say? It is one thousand percent the truth. There was no fix. We did try to make it work with the Raiders, really. But for a letter that we received from the Raiders warning Antonio that his contract would be voided, he would be playing tonight for the Oakland Raiders. That’s the unfortunate thing. The Raiders protected themselves and that set Antonio off.
“What happened was that because of the fines that they had, it could have potentially voided his contract and that was not something Antonio was comfortable with moving forward. The relationship became fractured between Antonio and the front office, unfortunately, and essentially that is what led to the demise. . . But there was no intent to get out of this deal. It wasn’t premeditated at all. In fact, Antonio was prepared to play on Monday night and it wasn’t until the fines and the letters and everything that this deal fell apart.”
Further, says Rosenhaus. . .
"Quite frankly, there was a lot of competition to sign him. Had it not been the Patriots, it would have been another club. . . . I can assure you that was a competitive negotiation for him as a free agent and the deal didn’t get done until Saturday afternoon around five o’clock."
What else would one expect him to say? On FOX Sunday, Glazer insisted the talk around the league is that the whole move was a setup.
Glazer: “Talking to people around the league. . . ..everybody you talk to in NFL, whether its executives, coaches, players, they are all saying this is totally orchestrated by the Patriots and Antonio Brown. It’s been in the works for some time. I’m not saying it, but everybody else completely believes it.”
Hall of Famer Howie Long also thought something wasn’t right, but shared the feeling of many in that his former Raiders team is better off without Brown.
“I think it is a classic case of temptation of talent outweighing character issues,” Long said on FOX. “I think Jon (Gruden) has a lot of Father Peter in him. He thinks he can save or reach every player and this guy was beyond his reach. They tried to accommodate this guy time and time again over the process of signing him, through training camp, the helmets, the blisters, the practices, the walk-throughs – all of that.
“At the end of the day I think they came to the realization that he is a Cancer on our football team and we need to get him out. He’s a team destroyer, I believe . . . . and (Pittsburgh coach) Mike Tomlin should be the U.N. Ambassador for what he did in Pittsburgh keeping the lid on this.”
Former Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw added that he would “never, ever” play with such a teammate and added that something did indeed look fishy about the quick deal.
“How does this happen so quickly?,” Bradshaw asked. “It seems like it was already in the making. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t. “
And, although the Raiders aren’t really complaining, maybe somebody should check it out.
Meantime, Rosenhaus revealed some insight he shared with Brown. Some might see motive for conspiracy in there.
"I’ve been dealing with the Patriots for close to 30 years now and I know Bill Belichick very well and I outlined to Antonio that Belichick is a no-nonsense guy and he’s got a winning program," Rosenhaus said. "He’s got a great regime and he is the kind of guy you’ve gotta comply with what he does. Their philosophy is everybody does their job and I explained to Antonio that’s exactly what he has to do going forward and he’s comfortable with that. He’s ready to fit in. He wants to win a championship, he wants to play for Belichick, he wants to catch passes from Brady."
And so he will, regardless of how the new relationship came about and if -- a big if -- he doesn't repeat the shenanigans he foisted on the Raiders.