A celebratory meme following the playoff elimination of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers does not appear to be Antonio Brown’s last poke at his former team. Now the wide receiver is talking about transferring his messy breakup with the franchise from the court of public opinion to an actual courtroom.
That’s what Brown and his lawyer, Sean Burstyn, suggested in an appearance on HBO's "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel" that aired Tuesday night. The interview also featured a new allegation: that Tampa Bay offered Brown a $200,000 injury settlement in exchange for him sitting out the rest of the season and entering mental health treatment. The pair further alleged that Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht said that part of the agreement would be that Brown wouldn’t “spin” his situation with the team another way. Brown and Burstyn also alleged that the Buccaneers repeatedly gave the wideout Toradol shots to mask the pain of an ankle injury.
The grounds for a lawsuit — if one were to ever come to fruition — apparently stems from Brown’s suggestion that the Buccaneers were saying things publicly to paint him as mentally unstable. The related damage to such a suggestion would be that those statements could cost Brown either future opportunities at employment in the league or a depression of his value in any contract negotiations.
The exchange from the interview conducted by Gumbel:
Brown: These guys at Tampa Bay Bucs tried to make an agreement with me to give me $200,000 to go to the crazy house so these guys could look like they know what they’re talking about.
Gumbel: They offered you $200,000 for what?
Burstyn: The offer was Antonio would basically sit on the sidelines, go on some list and commit himself to some form of intensive mental health treatment. And we were specifically told, in writing by the general manager twice, “Don’t spin this any other way.”
Gumble: Are you suggesting that a defamation lawsuit is possible?
Burstyn: Defamation comes to mind.
Gumble: Your figures, give me a [financial] number.
Brown: A whole lot of money. A whole lot. It’s totally disrespect, man. You know, it’s — mental health is an important key in the world, so to drag people along and play on people’s mental health, you know, it’s unfair and unfortunate.
Burstyn and Brown also reiterated their allegation that Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians lied about Brown not telling the team that his ankle was hurting on the sideline while refusing to go into the team’s game against the New York Jets.
It’s unclear when or if Brown would take the Buccaneers into court, but there’s a possibility that it becomes a more realistic route if Brown goes unsigned in the offseason and feels he can prove his lack of employment is directly tied to what he alleges are lies about his character by Tampa Bay. The complication with that correlation is the past several years of incidents involving Brown, which teams are also likely to weigh in any decision to sign him — not to mention the fact that he’s now on record saying he’s considering suing his previous NFL team.
It would be a major hurdle for Brown to prove that his lack of employment is tied directly to anything the Buccaneers said about him, versus the totality of his history on and off the field the past several seasons. Not to mention the personal evaluation potential suitors will make for themselves when it comes to judgements about Brown’s mental health. Part of that evaluation will surely be his recent interviews that have been both expansive and revealing. Another part will be his own actions in the wake of leaving the Pittsburgh Steelers, and then getting cut by the Oakland Raiders, New England Patriots and Buccaneers.
That certainly doesn’t mean Brown won’t file a lawsuit, particularly given that he appears to be intent on continuing a combative engagement with the Buccaneers well beyond this week.