Why the Patriots were Antonio Brown’s only logical destination

In the end, it could only be the New England Patriots.

After Antonio Brown continued his relentless crusade to turn himself into a name brand of football team poison, it had to be the Patriots who bought in.

Now, football fans will brace themselves for the next act of a truly bizarre and sometimes unsavory saga, one which saw Brown sow chaos all around himself — seemingly just because he could — and still end up on the roster of perhaps the finest team in the National Football League.

Because of the overwhelming drama involving a volatile star, it had to be — it could only be — the Patriots.

New England has built a dynasty of success by recruiting and nurturing great players, but it has also developed a strong reputation of being able to shut out the noise. Deflategate and all its ramifications? Shaken off without as much as a backward glance. Spygate? Buried amid a sea of trophies. The Patriots, unlike any other team in the league, have been able to take squeaky wheels and introduce them to the rarified grease of the New England system.

But more than New England’s reputation as the image rehabilitation and redemption kings, Brown’s landing spot after ejecting from the Raiders is the one place where he can’t act up and get away with doing whatever he likes. The Patriots simply won’t tolerate it — and they’re good enough that they don’t have to. Despite the fresh ink on a new $15 million contract (with a just-added second year option for another $20 million), he arrives already on the thinnest of thin ice.

“This is it,” Hall of Famer Deion Sanders told the NFL Network. “This is the last hurrah. If you go there and anything happens — it could be your fault, it could not be your fault — any distraction happens, they’re going to cut loose and let go expeditiously.

“They proved they don’t need you. They would love you; you are arguably the best receiver in the league. I would be on my best behavior (if I were him), because this is it. It is not time to build a brand right now, it is time to build a man and have people believe you truly want to play this game as (part of) a team.”

Because excellence can be distracting, it had to be the Patriots.

New England trounced the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night — that other team in this bizarre love triangle (or love rectangle, perhaps, as Brown is his own component). That steamrolling sent a message: when you’ve got a Super Bowl-winning squad already in place, you can afford to keep an incoming wild card on a very short leash.

Oakland couldn’t. They had to take the other approach: giving Brown as much latitude as possible.

“I think it’s the classic case of temptation of talent outweighing character issues,” Raiders legend and Hall of Famer Howie Long said on FOX NFL Sunday. “In some ways 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. At the end of the day I think they came to the realization that he’s the cancer on our football team and we need to get him out. He’s a team destroyer, I believe.”

Because ego is distracting, it had to be the Patriots.

The Raiders put up with a lot in the name of trying to accommodate a player they thought could help them win. There was the nonsense about needing to wear his old helmet, a bizarre foot injury apparently caused by cryotherapy injury, and a constant social media barrage where the wide receiver took aim at whoever happened to be mentioning him. Brown reportedly had a heated exchange with Raiders general manager Mike Mayock and also released a video of a private telephone conversation with Gruden.

But the Raiders appeared to be putting up with all of it — until finally they weren’t, when Oakland released Brown Saturday to void their $29 million contract obligation.

Brown is a superb player, the type the Raiders need plenty of, yet continue to shed — much to the chagrin of the Oakland faithful. Khalil Mack, Amari Cooper, and now Brown (among others) have all been trundled off since 2018. Brown has 74 touchdowns and 11,207 yards in his career, and any team needs that. The only team that may not necessarily need that level of output? You guessed it — the Patriots.

New England has done this many times before with players who had worn out their welcome elsewhere. In 2014, it was LeGarrette Blount, signed three days after Pittsburgh released him for walking off the field before the end of a game. In 2017, the Pats signed James Harrison the day after he forced his release from (once again) the Steelers. They have also traded draft picks for Randy Moss, Chad Johnson and Albert Haynesworth — each of whom arrived with their own monogrammed sets of baggage. Just last year, they signed Josh Gordon after he sat out the previous two seasons for violating the NFL’s drug policy.

Some of these gambles paid off big – Blount won two Super Bowls with the Patriots, and Moss racked up 50 touchdowns in 52 games for New England. Some didn’t – Haynesworth lasted all of six games before being released. And the Foxborough fates of Gordon and Brown have yet to play out.

Many fanbases across many sports sometimes equate levels of noise and talent; a premiere athlete is often always a larger-than-life personality on and off the field, with all the complications that may bring. Not in New England. And despite New England’s knack for fitting square pegs into round holes, plenty of Patriots fans and former players don’t necessarily like the move.

“I didn’t agree with (the signing) because, as a Patriot, you have to sacrifice,” former Patriots safety Rodney Harrison told NBC. “You have to sacrifice finances, you have to sacrifice your stats, you have to sacrifice a lot of individual things. And that’s the one thing that Antonio Brown has shown me: that he’s not willing to sacrifice anything for anybody else besides himself.”

Brown is getting a second chance – or is it third? – chance in New England, but it might be more of a half-chance. He’s managed to wind up with the one team that doesn’t need his talent enough for him to act like he’s the only guy who matters.

Bill Belichick is ready to welcome him into the fold … and just as ready to let him go. The Patriots system is about value, and more than ever before, Brown has to show his, right now.

Because it’s the Patriots.