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Why did Antonio Brown leave the Steelers? Pittsburgh exit marked start of problems for former Buccaneers star


Antonio Brown may have played in his last NFL game on Sunday afternoon.

The 33-year-old wide receiver sent shockwaves throughout the football universe when he ripped off his jersey, threw his gloves and undershirt into the stands and jogged into the locker room while the Buccaneers’ offensive unit was driving down the field against the Jets. Brown never returned to the game, and Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians told reporters after the game that Brown was “no longer a Buc.”

Brown’s abrupt Week 17 exit was just the latest incident in what has become a long timeline of trouble. Ever since he left the Steelers after the 2018 season, Brown has found himself at the center of controversies and bounced around to multiple teams.

That raises the question: Why did Brown part ways with Pittsburgh in the first place?

MORE: What we know about Brown’s situation with Bucs

Why did Antonio Brown leave the Steelers?

One of Brown’s former teammates told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler that the issues between Brown and the Steelers had been “brewing for years.” Brown regularly showed up late to team meetings and occasionally clashed with other players, most notably quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin seemingly let a lot of Brown’s behavior slide because he was one of the most productive offensive players in the league. He was named a Pro Bowler seven times as a member of the Steelers and climbed all the way up to second place on the franchise’s all-time receiving yards list.

The organization finally reached its boiling point ahead of the 2018 season finale. Brown had reportedly gotten into a heated disagreement with a teammate and missed multiple meetings and practices before the Steelers’ Week 17 game against the Bengals. He was not active for that contest.

Despite that Brown was coming off a season in which he totaled 104 receptions, 1,297 yards and 15 touchdowns, Pittsburgh ultimately decided that it no longer wanted to deal with the constant drama surrounding him. The Steelers sent Brown to the Raiders for a third- and fifth-round pick. Brown signed a three-year deal worth $50 million with the Raiders.

MORE: How Brown breakup affects Bucs’ Super Bowl chances

Antonio Brown’s brief runs with Raiders, Patriots

Much like the Steelers, the Raiders got sick of Brown’s unpredictable nature. He had foot problems as a result of a cryotherapy machine mishap and plenty of helmet-related drama. He also missed team workouts, shared a video of a private conversation with coach Jon Gruden and lashed out at general manager Mike Mayock. The Raiders cut Brown loose in September 2019 after he posted a release request on Instagram.

The Patriots scooped up Brown on a one-year contract before the start of the 2019 season, but he only played one game for New England before being released amid sexual assault allegations. Brown’s former trainer filed a lawsuit in September 2019 alleging that Brown sexually assaulted her on multiple occasions in 2017 and 2018. Brown denied “each and every allegation in the lawsuit” and said the two had consensual sex. Brown was also accused of sexual misconduct by a female artist who was working at Brown’s home in 2017. She claimed Brown sent her threatening text messages after the accusation.

Brown went unsigned through the end of that season, and the NFL handed him an eight-game suspension for multiple violations of the league’s personal conduct policy. The punishment stemmed from the misconduct allegations and multiple charges related to a January 2020 physical altercation involving a truck driver outside his Florida home. 

Tampa Bay signed Brown in October 2020, and he served his suspension before taking the field for the first time in a Bucs uniform on Nov. 8, 2020.

MORE: Brown misses out on big money by leaving Week 17 game

Why did the Buccaneers release Antonio Brown?

NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported Monday that Brown refused to enter Sunday’s game against the Jets because he felt that he was not healthy enough to play. He had been dealing with an ankle injury, but he was cleared to play by the team’s medical staff. He caught three passes for 26 yards before leaving the field.

However, Rapoport noted that there had already been a “boiling frustration” inside the organization with Brown for multiple reasons, including his three-game suspension for misrepresenting his vaccination status earlier this season.

Unfortunately for Brown, it appears that he didn’t learn from his history with the Steelers, so he was doomed to repeat the cycle.

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