By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Here in New England, we’ve grown accustomed to never ruling out any possibility or impossibility when it comes to Bill Belichick. The Patriots could go out and acquire Peyton Manning, Abraham Lincoln or The Great And Powerful Oz, and we’d all barely bat an eyelash.
Even still, this one pushed the limits.
After roughly 48 hours of the internet spewing out bad jokes about Antonio Brown leaving the Raiders in disgrace only to join the Patriots and win a Super Bowl … Belichick of course showed no hesitation in signing the disgruntled and shall we say mercurial wide receiver. The goal in Foxboro remains, as always, winning a Super Bowl. Brown will now be a part of that goal.
The breaking of the news was one of those moments where you had to check, and then double-check, and then triple-check to make sure that you weren’t being duped by a Photoshopped version of a fake Adam Schefter account. And after that, you had to text a few friends just to be extra sure.
Even when you see it coming for two days, it still manages to come as a shock. That is the magic of one Mr. William Stephen Belichick.
In that sense, it’s not surprising per se that Belichick sees this as a worthy risk. Brown is a Hall of Fame talent and one of the very best receiver in the NFL. When the best player at any position becomes available for a reasonable price, Belichick is going to stick his nose into the situation 11 times out of 10. That’s the confidence that can only come with 20 years of unprecedented success and an unimaginable level of job security. There aren’t many coaches in the NFL — or any sport, really — with that kind of self-assurance. It’s quite the luxury.
Belichick also has his program working in his favor. His is a locker room that has handled every type of personality imaginable since 2000. While Brown’s current case is unquestionably unique, the idea of New England opening its doors to a player most teams would prefer to avoid is not.
Add in the allure of the best receiver in the NFL joining a Tom Brady and Josh McDaniels-led offense … lining up with Julian Edelman, Josh Gordon, and eventually N’Keal Harry … and it’s not difficult at all to understand the positives to the mental equation Belichick performed in his head.
Yet even with all of that being clearly understood, there is absolutely no guarantee or certainty that any of this would work out.
You must consider, of course, that Brown literally just got everything he wanted from the Raiders, after successfully forcing his way out of a winning team in Pittsburgh. Brown got a coach who loved him, and owner and GM who paid him, and a fan base that would immediately adore him. Brown responded to having all of his wishes granted by acting in such a petulant way that even Terrell Owens could not approve.
For those who either didn’t follow or simply lost track:
–Brown forced his way out of Pittsburgh, a place where he broadcast his coach’s postgame locker-room speech to the world, a place where he feuded with the head coach and quarterback, a place where he had an outburst on the practice field and didn’t bother playing in a must-win Week 17 game, and a place where he announced his farewell to the city and fans before a trade had even been negotiated.
–Brown showed up to camp via hot air balloon, but he couldn’t participate, because he had frostbitten feet. He suffered the injury by reportedly undergoing cryotherapy while wearing wet socks.
–Brown threw multiple temper tantrums in the spring and summer because the league had mandated (more than a year earlier) that his helmet model could no longer be used. After making accusations of being targeted to change because of his race, and after trying to sneak a shoddily painted helmet onto the practice field, Brown reportedly threatened retirement over the issue. Eventually he found a new helmet … and even got a sponsorship out of it.
–Brown missed a practice and a walkthrough without any excuse, and the team fined him as a result. Brown complained about the fines via Instagram and then later confronted GM Mike Mayock. It appeared as though his time in Oakland was going to end.
–In a twist, an emotional Brown apologized to his team, and all fences were apparently mended immediately. Jon Gruden announces Friday that Brown would be playing in Week 1 after all.
–The harmony lasted just a few hours, as a Friday night report noted that Brown was upset to have been informed that he was being fined for the confrontation with Mayock. After emotionally taking accountability for his prior transgressions, Brown was unwilling and/or unable to accept any accountability for lobbing threats at his boss.
–Brown also released a professionally produced video on Friday night that included a recorded phone call with Gruden. The message of the video was that he’s more than a football player.
–On Saturday morning, Brown requested (via Instagram) to be released. Hours later, the Raiders once again granted Brown’s wish. This one terminated their relationship.
In doing so, Brown kicked away his $30 million of guaranteed money, and he threw out a stiff-arm to an organization that was willing and eager to bend to his every whim and desire.
Even with all of that talent, it’s easy to understand why there probably wasn’t a bidding war for Brown’s services on Saturday. Meanwhile, Belichick waited all of five minutes to lock up the suddenly available receiver.
In that way, you can’t help but marvel at the comedic timing of the future Hall of Famer. From an entertainment standpoint, he simply can’t be beat.
Factor in how much most of America already hates the Patriots, and the match at this exact moment in time is almost too perfect.
Football-wise, though, there’s undoubtedly a large chance that none of this works. While Belichick has managed to get various malcontents or “damaged goods” (or whatever other terribly dehumanizing word that people in sports use to describe professional athletes) to buy in to the program and perform at a championship level for a year or two … he’s never done it in the exact moment that the particular player appears to be coming unglued. Randy Moss fell out of favor after two unpleasant years in Oakland. Corey Dillon needed a new environment after seven years in Cincinnati. Likewise for Chad Ochocinco, though he had spent 10 years with the Bengals before wearing out their welcome.
Some others come to mind — LeGarrette Blount had a punchy past (and later forced his way off the Steelers, come to think of it) and Aqib Talib was a risk of sorts — but never before has the team taken in a player smack dab in the midst of what appears to be a crisis. To reiterate: Brown was just given everything he’s ever wanted by the Oakland Raiders, and he still didn’t find it to be enough.
The Patriots clearly have more to offer from a football standpoint. The coach is less of a cartoon character, and the quarterback is the greatest of all time. The offensive coordinator isn’t too bad either.
All of that is true. But again, his situation in Oakland was exactly what he wanted. It took him all of six weeks to throw it all away.
In New England, Brown will have the chance to showcase his talent on the league’s most popular (for better and for worse) team every week. If he manages to do it without causing the massive problems he created in Oakland, then he has the best shot of his career to win a Super Bowl.
At this point in time though, that remains a massive “if” for Brown. If a Raiders organization that bent over backwards to accommodate him couldn’t make him happy, it’s hard to find a rational reason to believe life in Foxboro will be any better.
It may work out spectacularly. It may fail miserably. You don’t know, I don’t know, Belichick doesn’t know, Brady doesn’t know, and Brown probably doesn’t even know himself.
We don’t know that. We can’t. But we do know this: One way or another, it’s all going to rather fun to watch. Rare is the boring day while following the on-field and off-field exploits of the New England Patriots.