It’s often said that wide receiver is the diva position of football – a sentiment that holds very true when it comes to Antonio Brown. Although incredibly talented, the former Steeler is certainly bringing his fair share of nonsense with him to the Raiders in their final season in Oakland.
While any team would love to have Brown’s services on the field, the list of off-field antics continues to grow.
In Pittsburgh, Brown caught flak from his coach and team for filming a post-game speech by Mike Tomlin in the locker room. He also feuded with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger at times before an ugly exit ended with Brown in Oakland.
Just a week into preseason, the Raiders and head coach Jon Gruden are finding out how much of a handful Brown can be.
Brown has already missed time on the practice field due to an injury to his feet. After failing to wear proper foot protection while in a cryotherapy chamber last month in France, frostbitten feet have sidelined the star receiver.
Now, Brown is threatening to never play football again if he’s unable to wear the helmet he prefers, which has been removed from the NFL’s approved list because the model is no longer made and is no longer certified by the National Operating Committee for Standards and Athletic Equipment.
So, as we weigh up the pros and cons of having Brown on the roster, are the Raiders better off without No. 84?
What Brown Brings to the Field
We’ve covered the baggage Brown is carrying around. Let’s switch focus to why he’s been a coveted weapon for the past decade.
After coming into the league in 2010 and becoming a significant player for the Steelers a year later, Brown is a seven-time Pro Bowler and four-time first-team All-Pro. Since the 2013 and 2014 seasons, Brown has arguably been the best receiver in the NFL.
Starting in 2013, Brown has reeled in at least 100 catches and eight touchdowns in six consecutive seasons. Brown notched career highs for receptions (136) and yards (1,834) in 2015, and for touchdowns (15) in 2018.
With a combination of speed, agility, and hands, Brown has been a nightmare for defensive backs before and after the catch. His unique set of skills have allowed him to total 837 receptions, 11,207 yards, and 74 touchdowns in 130 career games.
Despite the headaches he may have caused Tomlin or Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh, there’s no denying he helped the team become a fixture of the NFL playoffs for years.
The Steelers With and Without Brown
The 2018 Steelers were solid, but not quite good enough to reach the playoffs. With a record of 9-6-1, Brown was a key player for the team. In seven of the 15 games Brown played, he was the leading receiver, all while getting extra attention from defenses.
However, some of that baggage showed up again in the final week of the season. As the Steelers were fighting for a potential playoff berth, Brown was absent for Pittsburgh’s 16-13 win over Cincinnati.
The Steelers were able to reach the playoffs in a difficult division in five of Brown’s nine years with the club. Without Brown, the Steelers now have the second-best odds in the AFC North to win the division.
With Pittsburgh (+195) sandwiched between Cleveland (+125) and Baltimore (+295), we’ll have to wait and see what impact Brown’s absence will have on the team.
What Brown Means to Oakland
While the Steelers have the potential to make up for Brown’s hole in the roster with the likes of JuJu Smith-Schuster and the ability to produce winning football as an organization, the Raiders are in a very different spot.
First of all, the Raiders are no longer an organization known for winning. And coming off a 4-12 season, Oakland is now without Amari Cooper, who was traded to Dallas in the middle of last season, and Jordy Nelson, who retired.
The Raiders also aren’t likely to reach the playoffs, so getting a peak performance out of Brown will be crucial. As of July 18, Oakland is a longshot to take the AFC West crown with +1100 odds. Both Kansas City (-150) and the Los Angeles Chargers (+190) are much more likely to win the division and get to the playoffs.
In March, Oakland saw their Super Bowl LIV odds jump from 75-1 to 50-1 as a result of acquiring Brown. When a single player can impact the odds to that extent, it’s safe to say the Raiders are not better off without Antonio Brown, despite any diva behavior he brings.