It is impressive, frankly, how much has happened in the Antonio Brown helmet saga—how much has been said and done and how much angst has been expended in the Raiders receiver’s battle against the NFL over the rules barring him from wearing his helmet of choice—without the whole thing having moved even one sliver closer to a resolution. Things started with Brown staying away from camp because he couldn’t wear his helmet, and that’s right back where we are today.
The Raiders expected Brown to take full part in practice on Sunday. He had participated in the team’s walk-through on Saturday, and had traveled with the team for its preseason game on Thursday, even catching passes from Derek Carr in warm-ups. There was a helmet involved, and the assumption was that Brown had finally found a version of his preferred model that was under 10 years old, and thus not disqualified from meeting safety standards agreed upon by the NFL and NFLPA. Jon Gruden assumed so, anyway. Or at least Jon Gruden wanted you to stop asking about it. “I’m not talking about it anymore,” Gruden said on Thursday. “It was a legal, certified helmet, you know? Somebody approved it, or he wouldn’t have worn it.”
Well. About that.
“You all know that A.B. is not here today. So here’s the bottom line. He’s upset about the helmet issue. We have supported that. We appreciate that. But at this point we’ve pretty much exhausted all avenues of relief. So from our perspective, it’s time for him to be all in, or all out.
“So we’re hoping he’s back soon. We’ve got 89 guys busting their tails. We’re really excited about where this franchise is going. And we hope A.B. will be a big part of it, starting Week 1 against Denver. End of story. No questions. Just wanted you guys to know where we were.”
So what happened? It seems that Brown’s public call for helmets was successful; he located multiple versions that had been made within the last decade, though only one of the models was NOCSAE-certified. But, according to Pro Football Talk, when that nine-year-old helmet was sent for testing, it failed. So Brown was once again without a legal helmet, and he’s once again refusing to practice in a new model. So much drama, so little progress.
Brown’s frustrated with the league, and for good reason: The NFL hadn’t banned or even tested his preferred model until he made an issue of it this summer, meaning that every other NFL player with a helmet older than a decade, including Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady, had one-year grace periods to find new models they liked. And the Raiders are frustrated with Brown—hence Mayock’s comments. The fact that it was given as a statement and not in response to reporters’ questions, and that it was pushed out through the team’s official channels, is a good sign that the Raiders are nearing a breaking point.
But what can they actually do about it? They could cut Brown, but they’d still have to pay him, even after he likely ended up with another team. They have a single option if they want to recoup the $30 million in guaranteed money they gave Brown in a contract extension upon trading for him in March: They could send Brown the dreaded “five-day letter,” formally demanding he report to camp within five days, and if he does not show up, they would be allow to place him on the reserve/left squad list, used for players who leave the team during camp without permission. That would make him ineligible to play for the entire season, but it’d also mean the Raiders wouldn’t have to pay his guarantees. It’s the nuclear option, but both Brown and Oakland are quickly burning through all the others.