TAMPA — For all his troubles, Antonio Brown has had two things still going for him: talent and Tom Brady.
Not necessarily in that order.
The Bucs on Friday reached an agreement on a one-year deal for the wide receiver, who is set to come off an eight-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy.
Brown, 32, flew to Tampa on Friday and was expected to take a physical and begin the process of entering the coronavirus protocol today. He would be eligible to play in the Bucs' Week 9 game against the NFC South rival Saints on Nov. 8 at Raymond James Stadium.
Brady has been trying to persuade the Bucs to sign Brown, a Miami native, since the summer. They played one game together in New England in September 2019 and had instant chemistry. Brown caught four passes for 56 yards and a touchdown from Brady in a 43-0 win at Miami.
But Brown hasn’t played in more than 400 days, since the Patriots released him after that one game following sexual-assault allegations brought against him by a former trainer. Brown has denied the allegations.
No one knows Brown better than Bucs coach Bruce Arians, who was the Steelers' offensive coordinator during Brown’s first two pro seasons after being a sixth-round pick in 2010 out of Central Michigan.
In January 2019, more than a year before Brady arrived in Tampa, Arians wasn’t too high on Tampa Bay signing Brown. As recently as March, Arians said Brown was not a good fit for Tampa Bay.
“There’s too much miscommunication, too much … diva,” Arians said on ESPN reporter Adam Schefter’s podcast last year. “I’ve heard so many stories. I like Antonio. He plays as hard as anybody on Sunday, and he practices hard. He’s just got to make better decisions off the field, be on time, do some of those little things.”
The Bucs have real concerns about the health of their receiving corps, which has begun to affect the rhythm of the passing game with Brady. Mike Evans (ankle), Chris Godwin (hamstring) and Scotty Miller (hamstring/groin) have been in and out of the lineup all season with injuries.
If just one of those receivers was playing hurt, the Bucs might be willing to ride it out. But if one thing has been obvious since the day Brady signed a two-year, $50 million contract in the offseason, it is that no personnel move is too bold this year.
Brady convinced the Bucs to trade with the Patriots for the rights to tight end Rob Gronkowski. The Bucs also signed veteran running backs LeSean McCoy and Leonard Fournette, though the team had a solid starter in Ronald Jones, who has ripped off three 100-yard rushing games.
Brown might be the most high-risk, high-reward move. His off-field problems have escalated since the Steelers traded him in March 2019 after nine seasons.
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Brown’s latest suspension stemmed from his arrest in January, accused of attacking the driver of a moving van outside his home in Hollywood, Fla. He pleaded no contest in June to a felony burglary with battery charge and two lesser misdemeanor charges. He received two years of probation and was ordered to undergo a psychological evaluation and follow-up treatment, attend an anger management course, perform 100 hours of community service and follow a stay-away order from the truck driver and the moving company owner.
The league is still investigating the sexual-assault allegations made by the former trainer and could issue further punishment depending on what that investigation reveals.
The 5-foot-10 Brown was a seven-time Pro Bowl player with the Steelers from 2010-18. Twice he led the league in receptions and receiving yards.
But after reportedly getting into an argument with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and skipping practices leading up to a Week 17 game against the Bengals in 2018, Brown was benched.
Brown eventually requested a trade and was dealt in March 2019 to the Raiders in exchange for third- and a fifth-round draft picks that year.
His time with the Raiders was short and bizarre. In training camp, Brown posted a picture of his heavily blistered feet on Instagram, and it was later revealed the cause was frostbite due to not wearing proper footwear during a cryotherapy session.
The injury forced Brown to miss 10 of the 11 training camp practices.
More drama also surrounded Brown. He threatened to retire if he was forced to wear a new helmet. He found another one that didn’t meet league standards and began missing practices while filing grievances against the league.
Missing practices prompted Raiders general manager Mike Mayock to fine Brown $54,000 for unexcused absences. Brown posted a letter about the fines on Instagram and confronted Mayock, reportedly calling him a “cracker,” which Brown denied.
The Raiders voided the guaranteed money in Brown’s contract. That’s when he demanded and was granted his release. He signed with the Patriots in September.
What makes Brown an option for the Bucs is the injuries to their receivers.
Godwin has missed three games. He was unable to play against Carolina in due to a concussion he received in the season-opening loss at New Orleans. Two weeks later, he suffered a hamstring strain that forced him to miss the next two games.
Evans began the year injured and has remained banged up despite managing to stay in the lineup. He did not practice for two weeks leading up to the season opener. Then he tweaked a hamstring and has been a game-time decision the past two weeks.
Brady isn’t the only advocate for Brown. Offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich and offensive assistant Antwaan Randle-El were teammates of Brown’s in Pittsburgh.