The Tampa Bay Buccaneers surprised NFL fans late Friday night when news surfaced that they were signing free-agent wide receiver Antonio Brown to a one-year contract. The move reunites Brown with quarterback Tom Brady and adds firepower to a potent offense but simultaneously creates questions about his availability. Will he be able to suit up against the Las Vegas Raiders, the team with which he spent one summer before forcing his release?
While Brown would likely want to face the Raiders after a brief and wild headline-creating tenure, he will not be eligible to suit up in Week 7. He is currently serving an eight-game suspension due to violations of the player conduct policy. The league had been investigating Brown for months before his suspension due to sexual assault and sexual misconduct allegations. The earliest Brown can return to the football field is Week 9, when the Buccaneers face the New Orleans Saints.
"I look forward to new beginnings," Brown wrote after the news of the signing surfaced. "I want to be the best version of myself on and off the field, and I will do my best to be a great teammate. I appreciate the NFL giving me the opportunity to continue to work on myself and improve. I am thankful and grateful for this opportunity to play a game that I truly love and I look forward to joining a new team soon."
Brown spent roughly six months with the Raiders before a one-game stint with the New England Patriots and his subsequent release due to allegations of sexual assault and misconduct. The Silver and Black agreed to a trade with the Pittsburgh Steelers to acquire the perennial All-Pro receiver, which led to optimism about a potent offense. However, the honeymoon period quickly came to an end.
While Brown did participate in Organized Team Activities and park workouts, he was rarely present for training camp. He showed up in a hot air balloon but did not suit up for practice. Instead, Brown drew attention for frostbite on his feet, as well as issues with the NFL's new helmets. His absence from training camp and the helmet grievances became a storyline during HBO's Hard Knocks, ultimately prompting general manager Mike Mayock to deliver a message saying that Brown needed to be "all in or all out." The receiver later reportedly texted team owner Mark Davis and asked for his release.
The off-the-field issues and absence from training camp angered Raiders fans, as did a YouTube video following Brown's release. He posted a clip of him learning that he was no longer a member of the Raiders and reacting with joy. Brown ran around the backyard of his rented Oakland home, yelling about his "freedom."