ABOVE PHOTO: Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Antonio Brown wipes his face as he leaves the field after throwing his equipment into the stands while his team is on offense during the third quarter of an NFL football game against the New York Jets, Sunday, Jan. 2, 2022, in East Rutherford, N.J. (Andrew Mills/NJ Advance Media via AP)
By Fred Goodall
TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have officially severed ties with Antonio Brown, terminating the contract of the mercurial receiver who claimed he was fired in the middle of a game for not playing through an ankle injury.
The Bucs announced the move Thursday, one day after Brown broke his silence on a bizarre exit from last Sunday’s victory over the New York Jets.
Brown removed his jersey, shoulder pads, undershirt and gloves, then left the field after a sideline exchange with coach Bruce Arians, who said afterward that the player was no longer part of the team.
Brown, who has a long history of troubled behavior on and off the field, including being accused by two women of sexual assault — one claimed he raped her — said he left the field abruptly after he was cut for refusing to re-enter the game because of his ankle.
The receiver, who began his career with the Pittsburgh Steelers, tossed some of his gear into the stands, did some jumping jacks and waved to fans at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., as he headed to the locker room.
“While Antonio did receive treatment on his ankle and was listed on the injury report the week leading up to last Sunday’s game, he was cleared to play by our medical team prior to the start of the game and at no point during the game did he indicate to our medical personnel that he could not play,” the Bucs said in a statement.
“We have attempted, multiple times throughout this week, to schedule an evaluation by an outside orthopedic specialist, yet Antonio has not complied,” the statement added. “Maintaining the health and wellness of our players is of the utmost importance to our organization.”
While not specifying which ankle was hurt, Brown — through a statement released by his attorney on Wednesday — said an MRI performed the day after the game showed broken bone fragments, a ligament tear and cartilage loss “which are beyond painful. You can see the bone bulging from the outside.”
Arians said Monday that Brown did not claim he was injured when he refused to continue playing against the Jets. The coach has declined to discuss specifics of the sideline conversation and insisted he had “no clue” why Brown reacted the way he did.
Despite saying after the game that Brown was no longer a part of the defending Super Bowl champions, the 33-year-old receiver had remained on the roster. Wednesday’s injury report noted Brown’s absence from practice was “not injury related — personal.”
Brown’s statement, released through attorney Sean Burstyn, alleged a coverup. It also said the receiver has scheduled surgery to fix the injury.
“I didn’t quit. I was cut. I didn’t walk away from my brothers. I was thrown out,” Brown said.
“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% inaccurate,” the receiver added. “Not only did he know I missed several games with the injury, he and I exchanged texts days before the game where he clearly acknowledged my injury.”
Brown hurt his ankle during a victory at Philadelphia in mid-October and didn’t play again until Dec. 26 against Carolina, a two-month stretch that included a NFL-imposed, three-game suspension for misrepresenting his COVID-19 vaccination status.
Brown joined the Bucs midway through last season after serving an eight-game ban for multiple violations of the league’s personal conduct policy. At the time, Arians said there would be zero tolerance for the type of incidents that had derailed Brown’s career in the past.
The receiver helped Tampa Bay win its first Super Bowl title in nearly two decades last February and returned this season on a one-year, $3.1 million contract that could have been worth up to twice that with incentives.
Brown appeared in seven games this season, finishing with 42 receptions for 545 yards and four touchdowns. His streak of 144 consecutive games with at least one reception is the longest in the league among active players.