TAMPA, Fla. -- After serving his eight-week suspension for violation of the NFL's personal conduct policy, Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Antonio Brown will be eligible to start practicing on Wednesday.
Here are some answers to some of the biggest questions surrounding Brown as he looks to revive his career:
In March, Bruce Arians wasn't interested in signing Brown. What changed?
In a word, injuries. The Bucs’ two Pro Bowl wide receivers -- Mike Evans and Chris Godwin -- have been on the field together only for 43% of the Bucs’ offensive snaps. Evans had a hamstring injury to start the season and has been dealing with an ankle injury since Week 4. Godwin has played in only four games due to a concussion, hamstring injury and surgery on a broken finger. Scotty Miller has also been dealing with a groin and hip injury, tight end Rob Gronkowski has been fighting a shoulder injury, Justin Watson had missed time with a chest injury and O.J. Howard is out for the season because of a ruptured Achilles.
The last thing the Bucs wanted was a repeat of their Week 5 Thursday night game, when quarterback Tom Brady's leading receiver was rookie Tyler Johnson, to whom Brady hadn’t completed a pass prior to that game. Brown has the rare distinction of having played in Arians’ offense before and being Brady’s teammate -- albeit briefly -- when he spent 11 days with the New England Patriots last year.
What kind of impression did Brown make in his first week in Tampa?
Brown wasn’t able to practice on the field with teammates because of the suspension. But he did spend the past week attending meetings and doing workouts with the strength and conditioning staff. Arians said “he looks fantastic” and is “in great shape.”
He also said they had some good conversations, which is important because they traded barbs publicly -- Arians last year said Brown had become “too much of a diva,” and Brown responded by criticizing Arians’ choice of attire, with his Kangol hats and glasses. Those around Brown believe he’s eager to rebuild his reputation, and he’ll have a chance to do that. Miller said he was giving Brown a “blank canvas” and that he would “treat him like anybody else who comes in.”
What gives the Bucs confidence Brown won’t be a problem?
The feeling inside the building is Arians has a strong enough personality to handle Brown. The Bucs also believe in the leadership they have on their team under Brady. They know they can control only what goes on inside the building, but the belief is Brown recognizes that if he has one slip-up, he’s gone.
The Bucs also believe the coaching staff's familiarity with Brown will help. Offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich threw to him every day when they were with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Brown was teammates with offensive assistant Antwaan Randle-El and outside linebackers coach Larry Foote. Assistant head coach/run game coordinator Harold Goodwin was an offensive assistant with the Steelers for two years when Brown was there. Because of that, this staff feels like they don't have to tiptoe around the issues -- they can have frank discussions with Brown about expectations.
“I just think he’s a guy in a position that pretty much knows he’s on his last chance," Goodwin said.
What’s happening with the civil suit against Brown?
Brown faces a civil suit filed by his former trainer, who said Brown assaulted her on three separate occasions from 2017 to 2018. A trial is set for Dec. 14-18, a source told ESPN.
Arians said he is going to "let the court system handle it" and that "if it's found out to be true, he won't be with us."
There was a deadline of Oct. 31 for electronic items such as cellphones, tablets, computers -- anything involving communication with the plaintiff, Britney Taylor -- to be examined by an expert. Those haven’t been provided. Brown had a deadline on Monday to provide a list of witnesses, but a source close to the situation said Brown and his attorneys filed a motion to ask for more time. There is also a deadline of Nov. 12 for more items to be produced in the discovery process. Should Brown not cooperate, Taylor and her attorney will push for sanctions.
It’s important to note that although this is a civil suit and not a criminal case, it’s highly unlikely there will be any kind of settlement. That’s not what Brown has wanted, sources close to the situation have said, although he could theoretically settle without any admission of guilt. Brown has rejected settlement offers, sources told ESPN.
The expectation is they’re headed for trial in December, assuming those court dates don’t get pushed back due to COVID-19. So, theoretically, even if the court finds Brown liable (the words “guilty” and "not guilty" are reserved for criminal court), Brown could play for five weeks and possibly longer. There is also the possibility the NFL could further discipline Brown.
Why has Brady gone so far to support Brown?
Brady doesn’t believe his relationship with Brown puts his own reputation at risk. He told Jim Gray in his weekly interview on Westwood One last week, “He’s his own man.” This also isn’t the first league cast-off Brady has befriended. He’s taken Randy Moss, Corey Dillon, Aqib Talib and LeGarrette Blount under his wing, too -- guys who had run afoul with the league, the law or both.
Brown lasted less than two weeks with the Patriots, the last time he played with Brady. Brown sent intimidating text messages to a woman who alleged sexual misconduct. The text messages -- which were reported by Sports Illustrated and included a picture of the woman's children -- were sent while Brown was a member of the Patriots, the source told ESPN at the time.
Why has Brady taken it upon himself throughout his career to befriend troubled players? Anyone who has watched Brady compete knows winning is everything to him, but it’s not the only thing for him.
“I probably have more perspective than just about every player in the league right now, based on my years of experience and what I’ve seen,” Brady said. “I want to see other guys succeed. And I think a lot of joy in my experience comes from seeing other people be their best and seeing people succeed in ways that can set their family up. I think that’s a really important aspect of football for me.”
What will Brown’s role be in the Bucs’ offense?
Brown is still learning the Bucs’ playbook, and they’re bringing him along as fast as they can. Arians also prefers players to carve out their own role, which is what Leonard Fournette did. What Brown should do is take some of the attention away from Evans, whom Brady didn’t connect with last week against the Las Vegas Raiders until the fourth quarter. That also takes some of the pressure off Miller and Johnson.
Brown lined up in the slot 13% of the time when Arians was his offensive coordinator with the Steelers, according to ESPN Stats & Information, so he has some flexibility there. But Evans, Johnson and Miller have all lined up in the slot at higher rates this season, so they can shuffle guys in and out of that role. The coaching staff also said that when Godwin returns, there could be more four-receiver sets. The Bucs have run 23 plays this year with four wideouts and an empty backfield -- seventh-most in the league.
As for Sunday against the Saints, when asked if Brown would be on a snap count, Arians said, “I don’t think the speed of the game’s going to be a problem for him.”