To say that it has been a bizarre summer for Antonio Brown and the Oakland Raiders would be putting it lightly, as the star wide receiver finds himself missing practices after threatening to retire from the NFL. His preseason antics have grabbed headlines throughout the world of sports, leading to some public comments about him from members of the Raiders organization. But Brown’s bizarre summer should be the least of Oakland’s worries heading into this year.
The issues with Brown started with undisclosed off-field problems that put him on the non-football injury list to start the summer. Brown followed that designation up with talk of retirement in the event that he was not able to use the model of helmet he wanted to. Thanks to an NFL rule change, that helmet is no longer allowed, with Brown having to select a model that conforms to the league’s standards for helmet safety.
Since that revelation, Brown appeared to have picked out a new helmet model, but was still missing practices. That led to Raiders general manager Mike Mayock publicly commenting on Brown’s absences from practice. He went onto say that the team needs to know if Brown is in or out as a member of the Raiders. But Brown’s level of commitment isn’t what the Raiders should be questioning, as the team has a laundry list of problems that they need to sort out first.
Chief among those issues is whether or not the Raiders truly have a franchise quarterback on their roster. Derek Carr was drafted fourth overall in his draft class by the Raiders and started his career in promising fashion. But he has cooled off since suffering injuries after helping the Raiders to get to the postseason, and his development and toughness have both been questioned around the league. Brown’s commitment doesn’t mean much if he doesn’t have a quarterback good enough to get him the ball.
The pass rush and secondary are also bigger concerns for the Raiders than any perceived behavioral issues stemming from one of the best wide receivers in the sport. After trading away Khalil Mack to the Bears last year, the Raiders racked up fewer sacks than any team in the NFL. This year, they drafted Clemson’s Clelin Ferrell in an attempt to remedy the defensive line, in hopes that some added pressure on the quarterback will make the job of the secondary easier. The success of that project will determine the Raiders’ success far more than Brown’s attendance at practice.
Plus, it’s not as if the work ethic of Brown has ever been questioned. His workouts are among the most incredible to behold in the league and they have clearly paid off on the field. It isn’t as if Brown is going to be spending his time missing practice on the couch eating ice cream. Also, there is a documented history of veteran players pulling stunts like this before that have had no ill effects on their teams.
Michael Strahan similarly threatened to retire in 2007 as a member of the New York Giants to get out of training camp. He returned to the team for the season and helped the Giants win Super Bowl XLII over the previously undefeated New England Patriots. While this year’s Raiders team is projected to finish nowhere near the Super Bowl, the point that Brown’s absence shouldn’t impact things negatively still stands.
Another tough season
The Oakland Raiders are considered a massive underdog to win the NFL’s AFC West division. As of August 19, the Raiders AFC West division title odds are +1600. Their -163 odds to finish last in the division show that the team has more holes than Antonio Brown could fill by running routes at half speed against his own team’s defense.
As the season gets underway, the questions will shift from how Antonio Brown is affecting the rest of the team to how the team develops in Jon Gruden’s second year as the team’s head coach. And with the team’s move to Las Vegas drawing nearer with each passing day, the pressure for the Raiders to begin performing will only continue to grow. Focusing on Antonio Brown’s behavior won’t solve that problem before the team’s relocation.