How many times have we heard Bill Belichick invoke the catch-all, "Just doing what's best for the football team…" reasoning for a decision he's made?
More times than any of us can count.
How hard to Belichick have to squint to see a way in which Antonio Brown – who quit on the Steelers at the end of last year and quit on the Raiders at the beginning of this year – is good for a football team?
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Not too hard, probably. Because Belichick and the Patriots live with the conceit (and it's well-earned) that they can get leopards to change spots, zebras to change stripes and idiots to keep a lid on it if just for a little while.
As so many people expected, once Antonio Brown found a way to convince the Raiders to put him out at the end of their driveway, the Patriots zoomed up, threw him in the back of their pickup and drove away.
Now, with a $15M deal in hand, he's got a chance to recoup half of his lost $30M and maybe some of his image.
I think it's a stupid idea. I think the guy has made a habit of committing crimes against football since about 2012 and – now that he's embarrassed and undercut a franchise and Friend of Bill (Mike Mayock), he's now being rewarded with the opportunity to play for the defending Super Bowl champions. Within four months, maybe he's standing on a podium in Miami holding up the Lombardi as the latest player to be converted by The Patriot Way.
But that doesn't make the signing of Brown any less hypocritical for a head coach who supposedly only wanted to work with good dudes.
Does it make perfect sense that the Patriots signed Brown? Yes and no. They've taken so many guys who were card-carrying dinks and either gotten them to assimilate completely or quarantined their nonsense. Chad Johnson, Corey Dillon, Albert Haynesworth, Randy Moss, LeGarrette Blount, Aqib Talib – they all came to town amid hand-wringing they were going to ruin EVERYTHING. None of them did. Almost all of them were big helps.
But Brown seemed a bridge too far. Two days ago, he was threatening to punch Mayock in the face and calling him a cracker? What's the speech he gets in New England? "Don't do that here?"
Hell, if that's all it takes, why didn't anyone think of that before?
It will, actually be fascinating to see whether Brown – who so many of us armchair shrinks think is losing his mind – can keep it together. Will he dummy up on social media? Will he defer to Tom Brady? Will he show respect for Julian Edelman – who he's now making twice more than?
And how too will he impact players like Josh Gordon or N'Keal Harry in the wide receiver room?
Finally – and most intriguingly – what football impact will he have?
Football-wise, Brown can have a bigger impact in 2019 than Gronk was in 2018. And the fingers-crossed approach the team was taking with Gordon, Demaryius Thomas, N'Keal Harry and the rest that said, "If their bodies and brains cooperate, they may be good…" is now switched to, "If Brown plays like he can, the other guys are gravy."
Football is why we all follow this stuff in the first place anyway, isn't it? Because of the game. Not the litany of soap opera sideshows that hijack everything else to the point where the game's themselves are the last thing we talk about.
In the end, that's what Bill Belichick is going to strip it down to. "We're about football, here. You in or you out?"
We will find out soon enough the answer to that.
Until then, the Patriots are now the franchise that subscribes to the motto: "Just win, baby."
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