As the dust settles on what became an unexpectedly crazy Friday afternoon, some clarity has emerged regarding Raiders receiver Antonio Brown‘s effort to continue to wear his helmet of choice.
Per a source with knowledge of the situation, Brown hopes to continue to wear the Schutt AiR Advantage helmet that he has worn throughout his NFL career. Because Brown’s helmet is more than 10 years old, the helmet cannot be certified for further use. Although the AiR Advantage was not on the list of 11 models that the league and NFL Players Association agreed to ban as of 2019, Schutt no longer makes that helmet. Thus, Brown can’t simply trade in his old helmet for a new one.
In 2014, Schutt described the AiR Advantage as a lightweight model that became “very popular with skill position players, who want to be as fast as they can.” Schutt explained that it stopped making the AiR Advantage in 2011 because “current helmet technology had moved past it.”
The AiR Advantage used traditional foam padding, which per Schutt “does not perform as well as the [Thermoplastic Urethane] Cushioning” used in its other helmets.
“TPU Cushioning absorbs significantly more impact across a wider variety of temperatures than any other helmet on the field,” Schutt explained in 2014. “Third party testing by an independent, certified helmet testing facility has proven that, three years in a row. The AiR Advantage had lived out its useful life as a product and was discontinued when something better was developed.”
With no new AiR Advantage helmets available and with Brown’s helmet past the window for annual certification, his only option is to find a new helmet.
Regardless of whether Brown understands these nuances, he disagrees with the league’s position strongly enough to pursue a grievance. The grievance hearing happened on Friday, with an independent arbitrator, union representatives, and a representative for Brown present. Brown participated by phone.
While the arbitrator could, in theory, decide to allow Brown to use the helmet, the NFL sees no basis for deviation from procedures to which both the league and the NFLPA have agreed.
This specific issue dates bate to April, per the source. Both the Raiders and Schutt have worked with Brown to find acceptable alternative helmets. To date, Brown has yet to find another helmet that he is willing to use.
Unless the arbitrator gives Brown a dispensation, he cannot practice or play with an unapproved helmet. If he refuses to practice or to play, he’ll be in breach of his contract, he’ll be suspectible to forfeiture of all or part of the $1 million signing bonus he received in March from the Raiders, and more than $30 million in guarantees money will likely be voided. Ultimately, if he chooses not to play, he will not receive game checks that, based on his 2019 salary of $14.625 million, amount to more than $860,000 per week.
If Brown continues to stay away from the team, if the Raiders send him a “five-day letter,” and if Brown doesn’t return, the Raiders can shut him down for the full season.
Given those basic facts, it’s hard to imagine Brown not showing up and playing even if he loses the grievance. He may not like any other helmets, but he has more than $30 million over the next two years riding on his willingness to show up for work, wearing an approved helmet. Even if his production dips because of a new helmet, the Raiders will still be on the hook for his fully-guaranteed payments through 2021.
Hopefully, someone will explain the situation to him in those terms. He doesn’t have to play well to get paid. He just has to play. And even if he suddenly becomes a mediocre player due to helmet discomfort, he still gets paid. If he doesn’t show up, he doesn’t get paid.
This seems at its core like another effort by a guy to whom no one ever says “no” to get his way. It worked for years in Pittsburgh, and it may work for years to come in Oakland. When it comes to the NFL and its hard-and-fast, collectively-bargained rules regarding helmets, Brown quite likely will hear a loud and clear “no,” for the first time in a long time.