What in the world went down with Antonio Brown in Oakland?
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer doesn’t know. Doesn’t care.
He’s just happy this mother of all NFL-sized viruses wreaked its havoc outside the firewall of TCO Performance Center.
“We’ve got good guys on this team,” Zimmer said Thursday. “[General Manager] Rick [Spielman], the both of us, we talk about the kind of guys we want to bring in here.
“I don’t know what’s going on out there [in Oakland], but I just know that our guys come in and practice hard and are smart and do the right things. Typically. Not always. That’s the kind of guys we’re trying to get.”
Meanwhile, in Oakland, Brown was released Saturday because he couldn’t stop behaving like, well, Antonio Brown. It was an apparent career suicide until, of course, the Patriots made it a career bonanza by swooping in and teaming him with Tom Brady. Brown is at fault for what happened in Oakland, but coach Jon Gruden and rookie GM Mike Mayock have no one to blame but themselves. Just like Brad Childress had no one to blame but himself for Randy Moss taking a shiv to Chilly’s head coaching career in 2010.
Brown was a known maximum-level risk Gruden and Mayock signed up for, crowed about, couldn’t handle, aborted at the 11th hour and now must wear like a “kick me” sign.
This was why Pittsburgh swallowed $21.2 million in dead money against this year’s salary cap and took picks in the third and fifth rounds while essentially giving away a four-time All-Pro who last year led the league in receiving touchdowns. Good teams don’t want their foundation shifting to and fro based on the whims, tantrums and social media antics of one erratic individual.
The Oakland chapter in Brown’s selfish Tilt-A-Whirl career included frostbitten feet and a spot on the non-football injury list; a two-week absence and a threat to retire if he couldn’t wear an outdated helmet now prohibited for safety reasons; a $40,000 fine for an unexcused absence and skipping a mandatory pregame walk-through; the posting on social media of Mayock’s fine letter on a response saying in part, “When your own team want to hate.” …
(Pause to take a breath)
… A hissy fit at practice; an altercation with Mayock; a report the Raiders were planning to suspend Brown; another missed practice; Friday’s public apology to teammates and the organization …
And, of course, another 180-degree turn back to the dark side Saturday.
First, Brown posted a YouTube video with background audio of a private phone conversation with an exasperated Gruden urging him “to just play football” and Brown pushing back because “he’s more than a football player.” Then Brown took to Instagram to ask for his release after a report came out that his $29.1 million guarantee was being voided by a $215,000 fine.
The Raiders granted his request and are left with a mess they earned. They built their salary cap, depth chart, game plans, locker room trust and entire culture around a superstar at the pinnacle of unpredictability.
“If the players aren’t policing [a team’s culture], then you won’t have a good locker room,” Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph said. “It’s on the players to hold each other accountable. … It’s not easy, especially a guy who plays at such a high level on Sunday.
“But as a leader of a football team, that’s something you have to do. And the best football teams are the teams whose superstars are the ones that are policing.”
Back in 2010, when the Vikings traded for Moss, Chilly was asked so many questions about coexisting with Moss that he paused, looked around the room and asked, “We’re already talking about a mutiny?”
Less than a month later, Childress released Moss against ownership’s directive. Less than a month after that, Childress was fired.
In Oakland, the only saving grace was the expectation that Brown’s greatness on game day would be good enough to overshadow all else. That ended two days shy of the season opener when Brown became too much even for a franchise whose decadeslong mantra is “Just Win Baby.”
Consider it a self-inflicted wound. On both sides.
Mark Craig is an NFL and Vikings Insider. Twitter: @markcraigNFL. E-mail: email@example.com