Antonio Brown emerged late Wednesday claiming his badly injured ankle, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers “cover-up” of his status, caused his in-game exit from the sideline at MetLife Stadium.
Brown, spotted earlier this week courtside at the Brooklyn Nets game, issued a statement through his attorney on the same day the Buccaneers included him on the team’s injury report for Week 18.
Though the Buccaneers made it clear after beating the New York Jets on the day Brown bowed out that he was “no longer a Buc,” no official transaction was made in what could be shaping up as a litigious face-off. Of note in Brown’s professional career and pertinent in any legal dispute over his remaining salary are unceremonious exits from the Pittsburgh Steelers, then-Oakland Raiders and New England Patriots prior to his fresh start with the Buccaneers.
Brown, 33, claimed the Buccaneers were aware of the severity of his ankle injury and that an MRI “shows broken bone fragments stuck in my ankle, the ligament torn from the bone, and cartilage loss, which are beyond painful.”
Only three weeks ago it appeared Brown might be done with the Buccaneers over his “representation of vaccination status” to the team and NFL. But head coach Bruce Arians allowed another chance as Brown rehabbed his hurting ankle.
With the Buccaneers down several wide receivers — including starters Chris Godwin (ACL) and Mike Evans (COVID-19) — Brown played for the first time in 10 weeks on Dec. 26 at Carolina, one game before the incident vs. the Jets.
Brown said in his Wednesday statement that “Because of my commitment to the game, I relented to pressure directly from my coach to play injured. Despite the pain, I suited up, the staff injected me with what I now know was a powerful and sometimes dangerous painkiller the NFLPA has warned against using, and I gave it my all for the team. I played until it was clear that I could not use my ankle to safely perform my playing responsibilities. On top of that, the pain was extreme.”
Brown said general manager Jason Licht acknowledged in a text message that Brown disclosed his ankle pain to Arians.
Arians was asked Wednesday if it was a matter of “how and not if” Brown was gone, he replied: “Right.”
“It’s a management decision, what’s happening right now,” Arians said.
Brown claimed in the lengthy statement that Arians also directly exchanged texts with Brown prior to the game and discussed the injury.
“I took a seat on the sideline and my coach came up to me, very upset, and shouted, ‘What’s wrong with you? What’s wrong with you?’ I told him, ‘It’s my ankle.’ But he knew that. It was well-documented and we had discussed it. He then ordered me to get on the field. I said, ‘Coach, I can’t.’ He didn’t call for medical attention. Instead, he shouted at me, ‘You’re done’ while he ran his finger across his throat.
“Coach was telling me that if I didn’t play hurt, then I was done with the Bucs.
“I didn’t quit. I was cut. I didn’t walk away from my brothers. I was thrown out.
“…Being fired on the sideline for having a painful injury was bad enough. Then came their spin. Coach denied on national television that he knew about my ankle. That’s 100 percent inaccurate.”
Brown was a member of the Super Bowl-winning roster in 2020 and was one of a number of free agents to re-sign with the team in the offseason.
This season, he had 42 receptions for 545 yards and four touchdowns in seven games.
–Field Level Media