Bill Belichick wasn’t exactly effusive in his endorsement of Antonio Brown’s progress on Friday… what does it mean for Sunday’s game in Miami?
According to reports cited by NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport and Kevin Patra, it appears that New England receiver Antonio Brown will not be placed on the commissioner’s exempt list prior to the Patriots‘ Sunday clash against the Miami Dolphins. While Brown could still end up being put on paid leave while the NFL investigates the rape allegations levied against him, it appears he’s cleared to play at least in Week 2… if Patriots head coach Bill Belichick plans to play him, that is.
While it may seem like a forgone conclusion that Brown will play if he’s allowed to play, that’s not exactly the case. Even though he’s inarguably one of the most dangerous and talented skill position players in the league, he’s still extremely fresh on the job in New England.
Consider: as of Saturday morning (not even a full week ago), Brown was still under contract with the Oakland Raiders. On Saturday evening, it was reported that he planned to join the New England Patriots after being granted his release. It wasn’t until Monday that Brown officially signed his Patriots contract, and it wasn’t until Wednesday that he began practicing with his new teammates.
Brown is a nine-year NFL veteran with experience playing under multiple offensive coordinators and in several different schemes. By most accounts from his teammates and coaches, he’s an intelligent football player with an aptitude for exceeding at a high level in the NFL. He is an extremely-talented route runner and a versatile chess piece who can play at several different receiver positions across the field.
All of that is fine and good, but he’s still playing on the Patriots now.
Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels employ one of the most complicated, sophisticated offensive schemes in the league. The New England playbook is renowned for its supreme degree of difficulty – just ask Chad Ochocinco, an incredible receiver with the Cincinnati Bengals who flamed out with the Patriots because he couldn’t master the finer X’s and O’s of his new job details, per 247 Sports’ Tyler Sullivan.
So is Antonio Brown ready for action with his new team this weekend?
Yes… no… maybe so. It’s not exactly clear based off what Belichick himself had to say during his Friday press conference, via NESN’s Doug Kyed:
"“Obviously, he’s not familiar with our offense. The systems that he’s been in have been quite different. Jon (Gruden) does the West Coast offense, which there’s very little carryover from their system (the Raiders) to our system. Not bad or good — just we’ve had players before. It’s just not all going to carry over, and a similar thing in Pittsburgh. You know, he’s working hard to pick it up, and we’re working hard to get it to him. … It’s too much ground to make up in a few days, but we do the best we can and we’ll see how it goes.”"
Belichick even went so far as to say that Brown still has “a long way to go.” But a long way to go before what? A long way to go until he’s fully acclimated to the Patriots offense is one thing; a long way to go if he’s hoping to play Sunday against the Dolphins is quite another.
It would be fairly shocking for New England to acquire a player of Brown’s caliber and not put him on the field immediately. Then again, would anyone put that past Belichick?
After all, it’s not as if the Patriots looked like they desperately needed Brown after rolling over the Steelers 33-3 in the first week of the season. They’re also playing the listless Miami Dolphins in Week 2, so they could decide to stash Brown and give him more time to soak up the New England playbook, all the while letting their more experienced players take care of business against the Dolphins.
And then of course there’s always the possibility that Belichick is playing mind games with the media, with fans, and most importantly, with his upcoming opponent.
Acting as if Brown suiting up on Sunday is anything but a sure thing puts his counterpart on Miami’s staff, former Pats defensive coach Brian Flores, in a difficult position. Now Flores must install two game-plans potentially: one that accounts for Brown being on the Patriots offense, and one that doesn’t have him playing at all.
It’s anyone’s guess what Belichick’s true intentions are behind his commentary on Brown during Friday’s media session. One thing’s for sure though: many, many people will be glued to their television sets come Sunday afternoon to find out just what happens exactly in AB’s first game with the Patriots.