Will Antonio Brown ever play again? He’s got a lot of things to overcome in-order to do so. He needs to make people forget about his off-the-field transgressions (good luck with that). Since he’s not going to make people—especially the people that own and coach NFL teams—forget about his off-the-field antics, he needs to hope they will at least overlook them long enough to sign him to another deal, one that, if I know AB like you know AB, won’t be for the league minimum. And even if a team wanted to sign him to a deal that, again, ain’t going to be as cheap as it probably should be considering he’s a hot mess, he has to find an organization willing to take him on even though he’s likely going to face a lengthy suspension for all those off-the-field things.
So will he play again? I don’t know. But I don’t really think it matters in terms of his on-the-field legacy. His resume speaks for itself.
If only Brown’s resume was his one and only spokesperson.
Because of all of those aforementioned self-inflicted wounds that are preventing him from doing the one thing he loves the most, Brown took to social media on Monday to announce his retirement without actually making it official. In doing so, he made himself relevant again. And when I say relevant, I mean in terms of whether or not people—the fans and the media—think he was a better Steelers receiver than Hines Ward. While we’re at it, you might as well throw in Lynn Swann, John Stallworth and, heck, even Louis Lipps.
If you wanted to, you might be able to get away with Roy Jefferson and Buddy Dial.
That’s how far Brown has fallen in the eyes of fans since that day many in attendance at Heinz Field chanted “MVP!” as he was being carried off the field with a calf injury in a late-season game against the Patriots in December of 2017.
In terms of the eye-test, there is no way Brown wasn’t a better Steelers receiver than any of his black and gold predecessors, even if that list includes players who are in the Hall of Fame, perhaps will be in the Hall of Fame one day, and who maybe could have made it had their quarterbacks not been named Dick Shiner or Mark Malone.
To reiterate, Brown was the superior talent to those who came before him, at least in terms of his credentials. Unlike his predecessors, Brown was the premier receiver of his day, the standard that was the standard.
From 2013-2018, Brown tallied 686 receptions for 9,145 yards and 67 touchdowns. He had arguably the greatest stretch for a receiver in the history of the league. Actually, you could say he had the greatest six-year run for any skill-position player in NFL history.
It was amazing. Every fan knew what they were witnessing as they watched it unfold in real time.
Again, he passed the eye-test. Even through 2018, the question wasn’t if Brown would be immortalized in Canton, the question was when.
Obviously, “never” is now the answer many people would like to give, considering Brown has been a premier jackhole since the time he left Pittsburgh following the 2018 campaign.
But that’s looking at things with a damaged heart and soul—I’m not saying you don’t have the right to look at things that way, but that’s what’s going on.
Of his closest competitors as all-time great Steelers receivers, Swann and Stallworth—the two that made into the Hall of Fame—cemented their legacies with Super Bowl championships. As for Ward, his stats have hurt his cause and will likely continue to do so even if he’s a two-time Super Bowl-champion and SBXL MVP. Do I think Ward deserves to be in the Hall of Fame? Of course I do. But that doesn’t mean I don’t think Brown doesn’t deserve the same honor.
He’s the only one of the bunch who didn’t need a Super Bowl to prop up his cause. He’s the only receiver whose stats—841 receptions for 11,263 yards and 75 touchdowns—simply didn’t matter. If you watched Brown play, you just knew.
It’s not a matter of who deserves to be in the Hall of Fame or not. If that were the case, there’d be a lot of guys still waiting to make it in. It’s a matter of what’s right.
And keeping Antonio Brown out of the Hall of Fame because of his character would be very wrong—and two wrongs don’t make a right.
In this case, two wrongs would make the Hall of Fame less legit.