Lynne Sladky/Associated Press
There are at least 20 teams, including almost every potential playoff squad, seriously interested in signing wide receiver Antonio Brown.
That’s according to three general managers who were asked which teams they believed might sign the former Steeler, Raider and Patriot, who is in football stasis as the NFL investigates sexual assault allegations. The only potential playoff team the executives believed would not sign Brown was New England, which dumped him earlier this season.
Teams largely believe Brown is still a transformational talent on the field. Indeed, Brown’s 841 career receptions are the second-most of any receiver, behind Larry Fitzgerald‘s 844, since he entered the NFL in 2010.
But there’s another side to this equation, according to the GMs, and that is Brown’s troubling behavior. From the very serious allegations of sexual assault to the very silly but professionally damaging posts he’s submitted on social media, Brown has turned off a handful of teams as well.
“There are teams disgusted by what he’s doing,” one AFC general manager said.
Still, the GM admitted, “He is drawing a lot of interest, [but] a lot of teams wish he would just shut up.”
If Brown could just stay off Twitter and stop doin’ it for the ‘Gram, every team would eventually try to sign him, the same GM said. That’s how valuable he is to many franchises.
Thus Brown, perhaps the best receiver of his generation, remains in an odd, complicated scenario.
First, there are his legal problems. A civil lawsuit filed by a woman named Britney Taylor, who was a trainer for Brown, alleges that the star receiver sexually assaulted her three times in 2017 and 2018 (the last instance, Taylor says, escalated to rape). Brown countersued Taylor in November and contends that their relationship was always consensual. The NFL continues to investigate, and if it finds the accusations are true, it could (and should) punish Brown severely. As of this week, the league had not completed its probe.
Norm Hall/Getty Images
Even so, a large number of teams, according to these general managers, would sign Brown now if the NFL weren’t looking into the matter.
It’s Brown’s other issues that have some in that group concerned. What bothers some of them is the fact that he has attacked various NFL teams and officials on social media and generally made a fool of himself.
Over the past year Brown has composed a number of disgraceful posts, and this past week he posted some of his most inflammatory. One since-deleted tweet listed a number of players in the NFL accused of crimes and noted that those players are “still working.”
This week, he retweeted two posts that wondered why Roethlisberger could still play in the NFL despite being accused of two sexual assaults (while suggesting in a tweet of his own that the NFL punishes white players differently than black ones). In another post, Brown ripped the union and his own agent (he later deleted those tweets too).
In fairness, a league that claims to prize unity has reason to be concerned about Brown’s social media behavior. After he was released by the Patriots in September, he ripped owner Robert Kraft. Before that, he attacked the Raiders for fining him after he skipped a mandatory August walkthrough. In fact, there are few who have escaped Brown’s social media wrath.
It all leaves a confusing, toxic mix, which isn’t a surprise since Brown is a toxic person.
Until the NFL comes to a conclusion, Brown is essentially serving an unpaid, unannounced suspension. (Several team sources believe that when the NFL does decide, Brown will be officially suspended by the league for at least six games. Other team sources believe the punishment will be even longer—maybe as long as an entire season.)
Still, if these general managers are correct, the moral of the Brown story (as it stands) will be an old one: Talent matters, alleged crimes…not as much. How things appear, especially regarding social media posts, may matter as much as how things actually are. Teams want players to shut up and play football. Nothing more.
But without knowing what the league will find, it’s all guesswork.
What’s not guessing is how angry some teams, according to numerous sources, are over Brown’s social media behavior.
Joe Sargent/Getty Images
To the NFL, which hates the airing of its dirty laundry, Brown is committing a sort of treason. Actual crimes don’t matter to some teams as much as when a player points out the various NFL hypocrisies.
None of it, though, has made it impossible for Brown to play again. A number of teams think he’s worth the headache. Teams may publicly deny it, but it’s there. Big time.
Now, everyone waits—and hopes he stops tweeting.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.