So far, Bucs’ signing of Brown has yielded bonuses

By Joey Knight
Tampa Bay Times/TNS

TAMPA, Fla. - To this point, the only waves he has created in Tampa Bay haven’t been accompanied by a nefarious undertow. Antonio Brown is creating far, far more separation than scandal.

In terms of demeanor and brand, outspoken has been supplanted by soft-spoken. Brown’s first tweet as a Buccaneer - featuring clips of his de facto receiving clinic Sunday against Atlanta - didn’t arrive until Thursday afternoon.

“He never gets tired, and it’s pretty cool to see a guy like that,” tight end Rob Gronkowski said. “It kind of inspires me definitely, in a way, to see a guy just keep on going, going, going.”

Backpedal two months ago, and the local fan base emitted mostly an incredulous response to Brown’s arrival, asking why a roster teeming with elite pass catchers needed this potential migraine.

Today, the answer’s as plain as the grimace seen on Mike Evans’ face Sunday afternoon.

“When we signed Antonio, Chris (Godwin) was coming off an injury (and) Mike was coming off a bad ankle,” coach Bruce Arians said. “It was like, ‘What happens if we lose one of those guys for the long haul? Let’s get (Brown).’ He’s fit right in, so it’s a matter of, I don’t think you can have too many good players.”

To this point, the embarrassment of riches has been spared the embarrassment.

Brown, signed for a financial pittance after a mostly self-inflicted 14-month NFL layoff, now shapes up as a productive, priceless cog in a Bucs passing attack that may or may not have Evans for Saturday night’s playoff game against Washington.

Brandishing the fleetness and route crispness that made him a four-time, first-team All-Pro in Pittsburgh, Brown had 11 catches for 138 yards and two touchdowns in Sunday’s 44-27 victory against the Falcons. Failing to reach the end zone his first five games as a Buc, he has four touchdowns in his last three contests.

“We knew it would take some time,” said offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, a Brown teammate with the Steelers. “He got here in great shape. I knew it would be a couple of weeks for him to stick his foot in the ground and be moving the way that he wanted to move, especially just learning a few things here and there.

“Now, I think he just has an awareness and understanding of where he needs to be, what’s going on, and how he can get the ball in his hands from a route standpoint, and what he needs to get open.”

Brown, 32, signed a one-year deal with Tampa Bay worth up to $2.5 million but featuring no guaranteed money. Financially for the Bucs, the risk was nominal. But the public-relations gamble was a roulette spin.

He hadn’t played in the league since September 2019, when the Patriots released him after one game in the wake of multiple accusations of sexual assault levied against him, including in a lawsuit by a former trainer.

No criminal charges have been brought against Brown from those accusations, but he also served an eight-game NFL suspension for violating the league’s personal-conduct policy. The suspension stemmed from his arrest in January, when he was accused of attacking the driver of a moving van at his Hollywood, Fla., home.

But working essentially under a zero-tolerance policy from Arians, Brown - by all accounts - has been the consummate team player in Tampa Bay. To this point, he has been inspiring on the field (45 catches, 483 yards, four touchdowns) and unassuming off it.

“Ever since he’s been here, he has amazed me,” Gronkowski said.

“The first week of practice, just seeing his spring and his quickness and his speed, I was like, shocked at just how much he just keeps on going. He’s like a machine.”

But Brown’s two-month body of work, while perhaps encouraging, is hardly redemptive.

That January dispute with the moving-company employee resulted in a no-contest plea and two years’ probation. He still faces a civil lawsuit (with a Dec. 6 trial date) filed by the former trainer alleging sexual assault.

Yet, for two-plus months in Tampa, Brown has carried his weight - baggage and all - with nary a negative ripple.

“Seeing AB go out there and perform (Sunday) the way he did, it was not only impressive, but it was something that we as players kind of expect from a guy like him,” Godwin said.

“To see him really get his feet back underneath him as the season progressed and get more and more comfortable in our offense and playing the game has been really, really awesome to see.”

Bucs wide receiver Antonio Brown (81) talks with staff as coach Bruce Arians arrives for a chat during a November practice at AdventHealth Training Center in Tampa, Fla.