TAMPA, Fla. — Nearly seven months to the day after Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians said “it’s not gonna happen” with Antonio Brown, the Bucs have agreed to a deal with the controversial, but highly talented wide receiver who last played for Arians in 2011 with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
It wasn’t coach-speak, Arians is a straight shooter. He called Brown “too much of a diva” and said he wasn’t a fit for the Bucs’ locker room, even with quarterback Tom Brady campaigning for him behind closed doors. But that was before injuries began to mount in the Bucs’ receiving corps.
Pro Bowl wide receiver Mike Evans has been hobbled by an ankle injury since Week 4 and has barely been able to practice. Their other Pro Bowl receiver, Chris Godwin, has missed three games because of a concussion and a hamstring strain. Their speedy deep threat Scotty Miller has been hampered by a hip/groin injury. And tight end O.J. Howard — who had become a big part of the screen game — went to injured reserve because of a ruptured Achilles.
The result? Brady’s top receiver against the Chicago Bears was rookie Tyler Johnson, whom he’d never completed a pass to prior to Week 5. And if the Bucs want to not only make the postseason but make a run at a Super Bowl with Brady, they realize that their window is tight and, they need reinforcements at a position that has been hit hard by injuries.
It’s the same reason they signed A.Q. Shipley as a backup center, so that if something happened to Ryan Jensen, Brady could take snaps from an experienced center. It’s the same reason they signed running backs Leonard Fournette and LeSean McCoy — to ensure Brady had experienced running backs to pair with Ronald Jones and Ke’Shawn Vaughn — who could help in the passing game.
So how will Arians handle Brown, whom he has publicly traded barbs with, had a tryout with the New Orleans Saints that included a camera crew entourage that infuriated members of the Saints’ coaching staff, once cursed out former Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau and arrived to Oakland Raiders camp in a hot air balloon?
The feeling inside the organization is Arians’ personality is strong enough to handle him. Arians has never had a problem giving anyone a piece of his mind — as seen by his expletive-filled tirades in practice — and he coached Brown with the Steelers. Brown also has ties to several members of Arians’ coaching staff: offensive assistant Antwaan Randle-El was his teammate in 2010; Harold Goodwin was an offensive assistant with the Steelers for two years when Brown was there; offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich played with Brown for three seasons in Pittsburgh as the backup quarterback; outside linebackers coach Larry Foote was Brown’s teammate in Pittsburgh for four seasons. Newly acquired defensive tackle Steve McLendon played with Brown in Pittsburgh for six seasons.
But the person who can make the biggest impact of all, and who can hold Brown in check, is Brady, whom Brown developed an immediate connection with while in New England. Brady invited Brown to stay at his home when he signed with the Patriots. In their one and only game together with the Patriots, Brown had four catches for 56 yards and a touchdown in a 43-0 win over the Miami Dolphins. The Patriots released Brown less than two weeks after signing him.
Brady has had success keeping troubled teammates in check when others have failed. Examples include LeGarrette Blount, Martellus Bennett, Corey Dillon, Randy Moss and Aqib Talib. But some of Brown’s off-the-field incidents are serious — two cases in which he was accused of sexual misconduct and a felony charge of battery and burglary.
This move signifies just how much influence Brady has on this organization. Brown’s personality is in contrast to Evans, Godwin, Miller, Johnson, Justin Watson, Jaydon Mickens and Cyril Grayson — players who don’t complain when the ball doesn’t get thrown their way and lead relatively quiet lives off the field.
Brown won’t be eligible to play until Week 9, but it’s an important rematch against the Saints, whom the Bucs have a half-game lead on in the NFC South but lost to in Week 1.
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