Bucs release disgruntled wide receiver Antonio Brown

Bruce Arians says the 33-year-old veteran was upset about a lack of passes thrown his way Sunday, not an ankle injury.
New York Jets cornerback Bryce Hall (37) tackles Antonio Brown (81) Sunday's game in East Rutherford, N.J. The Bucs on Thursday released the wide receiver.
New York Jets cornerback Bryce Hall (37) tackles Antonio Brown (81) Sunday's game in East Rutherford, N.J. The Bucs on Thursday released the wide receiver. [ ADAM HUNGER | AP ]
Published Jan. 6, 2022|Updated Jan. 7, 2022

TAMPA ― Antonio Brown had to be calmed down at halftime of Sunday’s game against the New York Jets because he wasn’t getting the football, Bucs coach Bruce Arians said Thursday. The receiver had caught only three passes on five targets as he sat seething in the locker room at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.

“We got that calmed down, players took care of that,” Arians said. “It started again on the sideline. We called for the personnel group that (Brown) had played in the entire game. He refused to go in the game. That’s when I went back and saw him basically wave off the coach.

“I then went back and approached him about what was going on. (Brown said,) ‘I ain’t playing.’ (Arians asked,) ‘What’s going on?’ (Brown:) ‘I ain’t getting the ball.’ That’s when I said to him, ‘You’re done. Get the eff out of here.’ That’s the end of it.”

Thursday really was the end of Brown’s triumphant-turned-turbulent career with the Bucs, who terminated the contract of the 33-year-old seven-time Pro Bowler and four time first-team All-Pro.

In a statement released through his attorney Wednesday night, Brown said the Bucs pressured him to play hurt in the game. He said he was injected with a “a powerful and sometimes dangerous painkiller that the NFLPA has warned against using” and ordered to play despite “extreme” pain in his left ankle.

After a conversation with Arians on the sideline as the Bucs were driving in the third quarter, Brown removed his jersey and shoulder pads and tossed them angrily to the bench, pulled off his undershirt and gloves and threw them to the crowd and ran through the end zone before leaving through the tunnel.

The Bucs rallied from a 14-point deficit to beat the Jets on Tom Brady’s 33-yard touchdown pass to Cyril Grayson with 15 seconds remaining.

Brown has maintained he didn’t return to the game because of the injury, which forced him to miss most of practice last week. He said Arians ordered him off the field, shouting, “You’re done!”

“The worst part of this has been the Bucs’ repeated effort to portray this as a random outburst,” Brown said in the statement. “They are telling people that first I walked off, then I was cut. No. No. No. I was cut first, and then I went home. They threw me out like an animal, and I refused to wear their brand on my body, so I took my jersey off.”

But Arians tells a much different story. He insisted that Brown never told trainers during the game that his ankle, which he first injured Oct. 14 at Philadelphia, was hurting.

“At no point in time during that game did he ever ask a trainer or a doctor about his ankle,” Arians said. “That’s the normal protocol. You go through protocols during games. I was never notified of it. So, obviously, that was a disturbing thing, because we were looking for him to come back in the game.”

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Asked about the throat-slashing gesture that Brown said Arians made toward him, the coach laughed and suggested maybe Brown mistook the motion of his finger pointing Brown to leave the field.

“You can’t force a player to play,” Arians said. “I mean, they have that choice. It’s their body. He decided to play. He and Mike (Evans) both were on pitch counts and we were trying to manage them the best that we could in the first half.”

After the game, Brown remained in New York, where he said he underwent an MRI on the ankle that was examined by Dr. Martin O’Malley of Hospital for Special Surgery. The scan revealed that Brown had bone fragments in his ankle, a ligament had torn from the bone and he had cartilage loss, Brown said.

The Bucs said they attempted to verify those results but were unsuccessful in trying to schedule an evaluation by an outside physician because Brown wouldn’t cooperate.

“We have attempted, multiple times throughout this week, to schedule an evaluation by an outside orthopedic specialist, yet Antonio has not complied,” the team said in a statement announcing his release. “Maintaining the health and wellness of our players is of the utmost importance to our organization.”

The Bucs signed Brown in 2020 after he served an eight-game suspension under the NFL’s personal conduct policy. The suspension stemmed from an altercation with a moving van driver outside Brown’s South Florida home in June of 2020. Brown plead no contest to charges of burglary with battery, burglary of an unoccupied conveyance and criminal mischief.

He helped the Bucs by catching 45 passes for 483 yards and four touchdowns during the 2020 season. He added two more TD receptions in the playoffs, including one in the win over the Chiefs in Super Bowl 55.

The Bucs re-signed him to a one-year contract, and Brown got off to a hot start until his ankle injury in a win over the Eagles. He missed five games before being suspended for three more by the NFL for misrepresenting his COVID-19 vaccination status.

The Daily Mail on Thursday reported that Brown invited 23-year-old social-media influencer Ava Louise to his room at the team hotel in New Jersey the night before the Jets game in apparent violation of the league’s COVID rules. Louise shot to fame in 2020 after she filmed herself licking a toilet seat in a bid to catch COVID-19. The NFL declined comment on the incident.

Last week, Brown and his agent requested that the remaining $2 million in incentives in his contract for the 2021 season be guaranteed, Arians confirmed, but the Bucs declined.

“They never were (guaranteed), so I don’t know why (he would be upset),” Arians said.

Brown caught 42 passes for 545 yards and four touchdowns in seven games this season. According to Spotrac, he was 28 catches, 255 yards and three TDs away from the incentives he asked the Bucs to fully guarantee. He missed nine games due to injury or suspension and will not play in the regular-season finale against Carolina Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.

Brown is now subject to being claimed by any team off waivers, but he has said he needs surgery on his injured ankle.

Quarterback Tom Brady is no stranger to distractions. He endured Spygate and Deflategate with the Patriots but said the Bucs have to find a way to move forward. Playoff seeding will be at stake when they play the Panthers.

“I’ve had lots of different things over a period of time‚” Brady said. “I think what you’ve always got to think about is the work that is ahead of us. The more you think about things that happened a year ago, five years ago, it just takes away from what we’re trying to do this week. The best you can focus on is the job you have to do, and I know what I have to do.”

With Chris Godwin out for the season with a torn ACL and Brown released, the Bucs are shorthanded at receiver and will have to rely more on Grayson, Tyler Johnson and Breshad Perriman. Grayson and Johnson played big roles during the final drive against the Jets, and Perriman scored the winning touchdown in an overtime victory over the Bills.

“Our team is great,” Arians said. “Our team knows the truth.They know what happened. Our guys are fine. They’re ready to play Carolina.”

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