BY Art Thiel 06:00AM 10/23/2020

Thiel: Brown better as Russ’s pal than teammate

Antonio Brown said all the right things to Russell Wilson. But Amazon would have to clear a warehouse to handle Brown’s baggage. This season is too fragile to add tension.

Seahawks CB Richard Sherman had his hands full with Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown in 2015. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

Good as a 5-0 record looks, gratifying as it is to have the game at Arizona flexed to a 5:20 p.m. start Sunday for the national TV showcase (thanks to a coronavirus outbreak with the Raiders), and gobsmacking as it is to see a Pete Carroll-coached team lead the NFL in points per game, do the Seahawks really want to put it at risk to hire world-class headache Antonio Brown?

Russell Wilson hopes so. That, of course, is the problem.

“The reality about Antonio,” said Wilson of his friend Thursday, “is he’s one of the best players ever play this this game.”

True. A four-time All-Pro with six consecutive seasons of at least 100 catches for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Brown, 32 is highly unusual. In many ways. This Sports Illustrated story from 13 months ago spells out the dark side.

If Wilson stands up for Brown’s hire and he fails disruptively, then gets cashiered from his fourth team in 20 months, is the quarterback held accountable for any team backslide? Or are the Seahawks under Carroll impervious to volatile characters?

Hard to know. But a worthy subject to consider.

The Seahawks spent a fortune in 2013 to acquire WR Percy Harvin without fully understanding the depth of his psychological problems. They won a Super Bowl with him anyway — even if Harvin and fellow WR Golden Tate engaged in a punch-out at the practice before the big game. Harvin was dispatched next mid-season.

RB Marshawn Lynch was another turbulent dude. But the Seahawks traded for him and got five spectacular years. Then he stunned and angered Carroll, just as the team departed for a playoff game in Minnesota, by saying he wasn’t going, despite a week of solid practice following an injury. Four years later, coach and player patched it up sufficiently to have an an emergency encore last winter.

In 2017, Malik McDowell, 20, convinced the Seahawks that the maturity issues, which subsequently caused him to fall out of the draft’s first round, were behind him. Then he flew off an ATV and hit his head, never to play an NFL down.

Sometimes, the extraordinarily talented come with extraordinary difficulties. Rarely has that stopped Carroll. It should this time.

Brown is scheduled to come off the NFL’s suspended list Nov. 1 after a series of misdeeds. Wednesday brought national speculation that the Seahawks are front-runners for his services. After speaking in generalities to local media, Carroll, in an interview Wednesday with Sirius XM radio was more specific about his interest.

“We’re there, we’re in it and we know what’s happening,” he said. “It isn’t settled yet and we don’t know where it is going to go.”

Wilson knows where he wants it to go. He said he’s known Brown for four or five years, trained with him in Southern California and listened as Brown claimed to have seen the light.

“From the conversations I’ve had with him, he’s really been remorseful and he’s been humbled along the way,” Wilson said. “I think Antonio definitely has taken those steps. He’s had some tough moments in his life, especially as of late. I think that he’s gone through a lot of things that you wish he could take back.

“Nobody’s perfect. None of us are.”

The expectation was never perfection. But decency seems a reasonable aspiration.

Brown’s conflicts with teammates, coaches, women and parts of the rest of the world are more than mistakes. The New England Patriots released him last fall after he was accused of sexual assault by a former trainer, an episode still under investigation by the NFL. He pleaded no contest to felony battery and burglary charges from an incident with a moving-truck driver at his Florida residence, and was given two years probation and community service. The list is much longer.

Wilson was asked where he draws the line on teammate behavior, or is it a “just win baby” attitude.

“You guys know me better than that,” he said. “He obviously made some mistakes along the way. There’s been a process for that, and he’s had to deal with it. I pray for anybody, honestly, that goes through anything. That’s just me, that’s my nature personally. I never wish anything bad on anybody.”

Prayer can be helpful, but the NFL must rule on deeds, which is why he’s suspended. Beyond legal and league issues, the Seahawks have to consider whether he will be a corrosive teammate.

Brown wore out coach Mike Tomlin, QB Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers with his petulant self-absorption.

In Oakland, Brown missed training camp practices without explanation, had a case of frostbitten feet from a cryogenic therapy gone wrong, then refused to play because he didn’t like the league’s new helmet. After fining him more than $200,o00, the Raiders cut Brown, but not before he released an audiotape of a phone call from coach Jon Gruden asking him to return.

Who does that? Is this a good teammate?

Asked about Brown’s reputation for irresponsibility, Wilson insisted that he talked to a number of former teammates who had a different story, and that the Seahawks have a way with the truculent.

“Most of the conversations I’ve had with most of his former teammates, he worked hard every day, he came ready,” he said. “If he does play football, I think this is a great place. I think with coach Carroll, this is a place that he’ll grow a lot as a man too.”

If there is a team with the tools to salvage Brown’s career, it is probably the Seahawks. And Brown couldn’t have a better advocate than the leading candidate for the MVP award.

But there is nothing in the public record that suggests Brown is a candidate for a behavioral turnaround. Nor is there anything in Wilson’s considerable resume that includes recognition as a mental health therapist. Nor have the Seahawks shown themselves to be more than spotty in the same capacity.

Then there is the matter of introducing into an already productive receivers room an over-the-top personality who seems to have little recent experience with the concept of team first.

The public will never see any exhaustive report from a counselor on Brown’s psychological state and fitness for high-intensity work. But the Seahawks had better. Otherwise, there is no substantive football need to introduce into a so-far-successful season, already fraught with tension over covid-19 restrictions, a self-destructive figure and drama king.

Wilson is the NFL’s best quarterback. But he is very new in his internship as general manager. Not the time to throw deep.

 


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YourThoughts

  • Kevin Lynch

    Thanks, Art, for a bold stance on what could become a controversial subject. I’m in agreement with you. Should a starting wideout go down…I don’t know. Now, I think of the hard work and outstanding results the Hawks have gotten from that pair. Adding Brown to the mix will take away throws, catches, yards, etc. It’s an issue. Let’s see how far D.K. can go. He’s been insanely good lately.

    • art thiel

      If the Seahawks need to take a risk, Josh Gordon would be a better choice — if the NFL drops the suspension. He’s always been a good teammate. Just can’t control his demons.

      • Chris Alexander

        It’s hardly an either or proposition. Assuming the league reinstates Gordon, the Seahawks can, quite literally, have their cake and eat it too. And probably for a bargain basement price to boot. Pete even said as much when asked about it, saying that the Gordon and Brown situations are “not related.”

      • tor5

        I can feel sympathetic about an addiction problem. A sexual assault, not so much.

  • Guy K. Browne

    Good read… I’ve been having the same conversation regarding AB with my son (now 14) about character and chemistry, and how one affects the other. Might be the difference in perspective between youth (Russell Wilson/my son) who see upside and potential, and crotchety old people (like me and others?) who have lined up too often to kick the proverbial ball, and had the proverbial Lucy pull the ball away each time, leaving us to dust off and find our socks. You do that a few times in life, you look to find a different, more reliable holder of the ball.
    Pete Carroll should know this, he’s older than I am.

    • art thiel

      Age might have a little to do with the public debate, but the football personnel decision is purely risk/reward. Carroll always gravitates toward freakish talent, a sentiment Wilson shares. But Carroll has years of management experience that should tell him that a few guys are unreachable by football coaches who aen’t also therapists.

  • Chris Alexander

    Like many, I have conflicting thoughts on AB.

    On the one hand, many of the things he’s done and/or been accused of are, frankly, pretty egregious. On the other hand, some of them – like arriving at camp in a hot air balloon – are “over the top” but hardly “offensive” (other than to those that are looking for reasons to deride him). At the end of the day though, it’s not my responsibility to judge him; that duty falls on the NFL, the courts (excluding the “court of public opinion”), and people who actually KNOW him.

    As a parent, I have some concerns about AB joining the Seahawks, mine and my son’s favorite team. But, as a human being, my compassion and personal beliefs lead me to feel that AB should get another chance and I find it hypocritical to think that chance should be with “any team buy ‘mine’ (and my son’s)”.

    Moving past my own feelings on the “man”, I look at who AB is as a “player”. Talent-wise, he’s otherworldly. Max Kellerman recently listed Jerry Rice, Randy Moss, and AB as the 3 most-talented wide receivers of the past however many years and I find it hard to make an argument against any of those 3. AB possesses game-changing talent. And even at age 32, having not played in a game since Week 2 of last season, I suspect he’s still got what it takes to be one of the Top 5 receivers in the league. (and with DK also on that list, Seattle could have TWO of the Top 5 and 3 of the Top 15 or 20; 4 if Gordon gets reinstated)

    As a teammate, AB has mixed reviews. According to Russ, most (but clearly not all) of the players he spoke to about AB had good things to say. Big Ben clearly had his differences, but I personally dislike Big Ben so I take whatever he says with a very large grain of salt. Much was made about AB refusing to re-enter a game while with the Steelers. I don’t recall the specifics, nor do I care. It’s in the past and life moves on. Hopefully he learned a lesson and won’t do it again – but if he dared to do it in Seattle, I suspect he’d hear about it from a large number of his teammates – and the coaches.

    At the end of the day, for ME, it comes down to one simple thing – I trust John and Pete and Russ and I know that they believe in their #1 rule – “Protect the team.” Russ clearly wants AB – so much so that it basically feels “inevitable” at this point. If John and Pete sign off on it then I’m 100% okay with the decision.

    Well, probably more like 98.7% . . . I am still a parent and I do think it’s sometimes okay to be slightly hypocritical.

    Honestly, my ONE concern is that he still has pending legal issues which are still being investigated by the league. The NFL has already indicated that he’ll be free to play with whichever team signs him starting with their 9th game, but they’ve also made it clear that he may receive additional discipline . . . and, theoretically, that discipline could come this season. It would suck if AB ended up “teasing” us like Gordon did last year (boom! look at this awesome catch; shit, just got suspended again, season over)

    Final thought . . . the concern about him affecting team chemistry and potentially derailing the season is a legitimate one but, ultimately, I think it’s a false argument against signing him. None of us know what he will or won’t do, how Seattle will or won’t use him, how his teammates will or won’t respond, etc. And, just as importantly, for all we know, NOT signing him could also derail the season . . . Russ could take it as a personal slight and sulk or, worse, decide to play out his contract and then leave Seattle at his first opportunity so he can finish his career with “a team that will listen to him.” I don’t honestly think that would happen, but I could certainly make the argument – it has just as many FACTS behind it as the “signing AB risks derailing the season” one does; that is to say, NONE.

  • tor5

    I find your take on this pretty persuasive, Art. A huge strength of the Hawks is team chemistry. And it’s what makes me such a rabid 12. The guys are so likeable… so many excellent role models. I can even sort of admire Russ’s kindheartedness toward AB, but when it comes to AB’s presumed remorse I wonder why I haven’t heard that from AB himself. Did I miss it? Such mega-egos are very difficult to penetrate. He might be cool one-on-one with Russ, but if he comes here and acts the least bit a jerk, it would be a colossal 12 buzzkill… even if he scores a hundred touchdowns.

  • Chris Alexander

    The latest update is that AB will be in TB on Saturday and is “working toward” signing a contract to reunite with TB12. Seattle “still is in the mix.”

    Link: https://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/30175919/source-antonio-brown-meet-tampa-bay-buccaneers-saturday

    • Nads

      Now confirmed is a one year deal with TB pending COVID testing, etc.. A good outcome for the Hawks. Now do something/whatever to solve the defensive woes and it will be on to the Super Bowl.

  • Husky73

    The Mariners brought in Carl Everett and Milton Bradley……Brown is far worse.

  • 1coolguy

    “Wilson is the NFL’s best quarterback. But he is very new in his internship as general manager. Not the time to throw deep.”
    Ditto Art – Perfectly summed.

  • jafabian

    I don’t know if the club was truly serious in signing Brown. They have both Philip Dorsett and Josh Gordon on the cusp of returning. Brown would only complicate things and after the debacle of Percy Harvin this move seems more of a message to the WR corps than an actual attempt to sign Brown. Especially when he’d be at best the third WR and other teams would give him an immediate opportunity to start. It’s been announced that John Ross and Dante Pettis are available for trade. Both are cheaper alternatives who would be less of a headache.