Almost everyone at MetLife Stadium was on their feet when Tom Brady received the ball with time for one final game-winning drive on Sunday afternoon. Despite a four-point lead, the New York Jets’ fate felt sealed.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback marched the offense down 93 yards in the final two minutes to cap off a 28-24 comeback win. But the improbable victory was overshadowed by the sudden exit of Bucs wide receiver Antonio Brown, who left the field in the third quarter. After reportedly refusing to go back into the game, Brown took off his jersey and shoulder pads near the bench and cut across the end zone, shirtless and waving to the crowd, before heading into the team’s tunnel.
Bucs head coach Bruce Arians said Brown was “no longer a Buc” after the game. Brown was expected to be officially released on Monday but there’s been a holdup as the league decides how to handle this situation, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. The defending Super Bowl champs nonetheless will move on without the talented yet troubled Pro Bowl wideout, who in bizarre fashion potentially ended his NFL career for good.
“Life is about adjustments,” former Bucs star running back Warrick Dunn said. “As a team, you approach it like he got injured or suspended; you have to make the adjustments. This is just a little bit different because it caused national attention.”
Brown—who has a history of off-the-field issues, including recently being suspended three games for using a fake vaccination card—didn’t just damage his reputation. The seven-time Pro Bowler also hurt his pockets in the process.
Brown was closing in on multiple regular season incentives before the blowup. According to Spotrac, which tracks player contracts, the sixth-round draft pick needed just 55 receiving yards to get a $333,333 bonus as well as one more receiving touchdown to reach another $333,333 bonus. He also needed just eight more catches for a bonus of the same amount, which seemed like a possibility, especially with starting wide receiver Chris Godwin out for the rest of the year (torn ACL).
It’s common for NFL players to try to unlock their bonuses in the final weeks of the season. It’s unclear how much the incentives contributed to Brown’s meltdown, but some people like University of Georgia sports economics and labor professor Steve Salaga believe the incident will leave a financial stain for the rest of his career.
“Realistically, nobody moving forward is going to guarantee him anything substantial,” Salaga said of Brown, who re-signed with the Bucs on a one-year deal that included $3.1 million fully guaranteed in April. “It’s just not going to happen.”
It’s not the first time off-the-field issues have cost Brown, who was released from the New England Patriots in 2019 less than two weeks after signing a one-year deal worth up to $15 million. Brown, who has earned more than $80 million during his career, nonetheless reunited with Brady last season and helped him win his seventh championship.
Arians recently spoke highly of him and said his troubled past was in the rear-view. But Brown once again put it front and center on Sunday, in front of countless FOX viewers and thousands in attendance.
Brady and company nonetheless will look to keep the momentum going into the playoffs after clinching the NFC South and locking up home-field advantage for at least one playoff game. If they’re going to capture a second straight Super Bowl this season, they’ll have to do without Brown.
Brady led a dramatic 14-point comeback on Sunday, adding to the legend of his Hall of Fame career, but the conversation after the game seemed more about the concern for his friend and former teammate.
“I think everybody should find and hopefully do what they can to help him in ways he really needs it,” Brady said. “We all love him. We care about him deeply. We want to see him be at his best, and unfortunately it won’t be with our team.”
(This story has been updated with details of Browns planned release in the third paragraph.)