The Steelers bear plenty of blame for systematically allowing a sixth-round draft pick from Central Michigan to become bigger than the team, carving out his own set of rules while the coaching staff let him do it. But Antonio Brown isn’t the first NFL player to take liberties with the rules, and he’ll hardly be the last.
Brown’s new coach has been down this road before, with a receiver who arrived in Tampa Bay in exchange for a pair of first-round picks — two years before Jon Gruden was traded to Tampa for two first-round picks, two second-round picks, and $8 million.
In 2003, Gruden’s second season in Tampa and Keyshawn Johnson’s fourth, it all fell apart. It got so bad that, ultimately, the Bucs paid Johnson to stay home for the final six weeks of the season.
Gruden banished Johnson because Johnson had violated team policy “countless times,” and because Johnson’s antics were affecting the team.
“This is a move that we had to make today,” Gruden said at the time. “I think it benefits our football team, the future of our team, and hopefully it benefits Keyshawn also.”
The difference this time around is that Gruden will be trading for Brown instead of inheriting him. Still, Brown has vowed to play by his own rules, and the fact that he managed to talk and tweet his way out of Pittsburgh with an eight-figure raise, $30 million in fully guaranteed money, and no new years on his contract proves that Brown’s rules work. He’ll arrive in Oakland as a conquering hero, and Gruden will now have to worry about whether the Raiders eventually will become Brown’s next conquest.
Gruden has praised Brown’s work ethic, but with that work ethic comes periodic lapses in attendance and/or punctuality. Typically, Brown flashes that electric smile and all is well. Whether that ear-to-ear smile will work on a guy better known for his scowl remains to be seen.
Regardless, Brown has become one of the most powerful players in the league, literally overnight. He’ll be bringing that power to the Black Hole in Oakland, and Gruden will be at the mercy of whether Brown ever chooses to use that power against his new coach, his new quarterback, or anyone else who gets in Brown’s way.