And so our long Antonio Brown nightmare is over and, because this is Antonio Brown we are speaking of, potentially just rebooting in a new place.
Of course, the news that the Pittsburgh Steelers and Oakland Grudens did a deal that broke late Saturday night/early Sunday morning makes perfect sense, because it’s the stupidest time to break news you want other people to hear about. In that way, the Raiders don’t get a maximum audience to trumpet their newfound boldness and the Steelers keep a bad deal quiet.
Everything else about the trade, though, tells us just how willing Jon Gruden is to start making a splash with incoming players after 2018's festival of outgoing ones. For only a third- and a fifth-round choice in the upcoming draft, Gruden went back to the future when the Raiders were the place where checkered pasts were collected and joined to make a gigantic tablecloth of goodies. Indeed, their cap space is so generous that they promptly agreed to a new three-year deal with Señor Cofre Grande that pays $30 million and change in guaranteed money and another $24 million if this doesn’t turn into one final East Bay sinkhole (and eventually Las Vegas when the non-guaranteed money comes into play). Not that the Rooneys couldn’t have paid that kind of money for a player of Brown’s undisputed gifts (they have 3.7 oodles worth of cap room themselves), but they viewed Brown as so disruptive to their inner tranquility that for them it stopped being about the money or even the return in trade. A third and a fifth for this guy is the equivalent of leaving your furniture on the front lawn with a “FREE” sign hanging from the duvet.
But these things are rarely about the team doing the giving nearly as much as the team doing the taking. The Raiders are as all-in as bad football teams tired of being bad get, and the on-field benefits and off-field hilarity are exactly the kinds of things they have lacked for years.
It is a deal Al Davis in his heyday would have birthed a litter of kittens to do because he trafficked for years in troublesome players, and taking a Steeler field-stretcher like Brown in his prime would have been additionally orgiastic. But that is a stereotype decades past its sell-by date, and Jon The General Manager will have some interesting intercranial chats with Jon The Coach over the next few months. He turned on Khalil Mack for skipping OTAs, for God’s sake; Lord only knows how Brown will test his old-school resolve.
That’s the thing to remember about this—Gruden is two Grudens in one. As a coach, he is a stickler for the good old days when players obeyed twice in case the first time wasn’t sufficiently convincing; as a general manager, he had tradeable non-corporeal assets galore and no wide receivers and a trade partner desperate to rid itself of an obvious talent, so why the hell not?
In other words, there is an excellent chance, this being the Raiders and all, that Gruden will love and hate Brown all at the same time. Now who doesn’t think that’s entertainment that rivals the Lakers for sheer skull-detaching fun?
It is also the first splashy acquisition the Raiders have made since Gruden arrived; he had spent most of Year One chucking out employees (Mack, Amari Cooper, Bruce Irvin, et al.) at a breakneck rate, thus aggressively breaking faith with all but the most loyal wing of the fan base. The Raiders were awful in 2017, and a swift and depressing analysis of the team by Gruden insured that 2018 would have to be worse.
Now in 2019, the Raiders are trying to be better again. They get to keep their picks at 4, 24, 27 and 35, and though their cap room has been lessened, Gruden can really get about the business of replacing the helmet logo with his own face. He can laugh with the rest of us as Brown and quarterback Derek Carr seek out common ground on the minimum number of targets Brown will consider acceptable for a man of his obvious import. He can dream of those special moments in training camp when Brown and Marshawn Lynch lead the team in not-stretching. He can still try to trade up to get Kyler Murray and melt every brain in the sport. Finally, the Raiders are not just goofy, but goofy with a bullet.
It’s hard to see what the Brown deal alone does to get them closer to the AFC playoffs, but that’s not our problem. We come for the pie fights. And Raiders fans, who will get only one more turn at the buffet table before having their team annexed again, can at least get some good old-fashioned WTF with their Sunday tailgate again. Gruden has broken the seal on the new Screw-It-Let’s-Pretend-It’s-1978-Again Oakland Raiders, when nobody was too, well, character-ful, let’s say, to wear the silver and black, and everybody of talent was welcome as long as the cops didn’t object too strenuously.
Not that we’re saying Brown is some kind of legal liability; not at all. He just doesn’t strive to be Employee Of The Month in a spectacular way, as anyone who gives himself not only a nickname but one that we thought would have already been trademarked by about 700 pole-dancers. He is the perfect Raider when there were perfect Raiders, and eventually he’ll either strap in for the long ride or this will be one final knee in the nethers to the most put-upon fan base in football history.
And the winning? You’re getting ahead of yourselves, kids. This could go either way, or maybe just spray the area with shrapnel. If Brown is the start to a new era of Raider glory (you know, like 40 years ago), the Oakland fan base will be especially irked for having been played so badly and then watching the children thrive with their new parents. But if it blows up like Randy Moss and Richard Seymour and Warren Sapp and all the other get-rich-quick schemes of the latter Al era, then it’s just one more lousy meal from the local restaurant you hate but can’t give up because it’s close to your home. Whatever the result, just take the comedy at face value and see what comes next.
Ray Ratto never turns down a good tire fire, as long as he can sit upwind.