The fanfare was unlike any other in-season signing.
The Buccaneers inked Antonio Brown to a one-year deal, ending a year away from football and reuniting Tom Brady with a teammate he has wanted to play with since they were together in New England.
For the good on the field, and for the bad off the field, Brown’s return to the NFL generated endless headlines. Now, as he is set to return Sunday night against the Saints, Tampa Bay’s top evaluator weighed in on what he’s like now that he’s back on the field.
“He’s just so explosive and sudden and so much stronger than he looks,” Bucs GM Jason Licht told NFL.com after watching AB practice in Tampa. “If you saw him in a grocery store, you wouldn’t think he’s a seven-time Pro Bowler. But man. He’s very strong, great hands, super explosive.”
So, yes. Tampa likes what it has seen. And chances are, you’ll see a lot of him against New Orleans. Coach Bruce Arians estimated his role could be anywhere from 10-30 plays, and Licht added playing time will depend on how the game goes.
“I expect him to be out there and he’s picked things up very quickly,” Licht said, adding that the offense is “very similar” to what they ran with the Steelers and that we could see Brown a lot.
So much went into the signing of Brown, who recently served an eight-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy multiple times following accusations of sexual misconduct and rape. In fact, there is still an outstanding civil lawsuit and it’s possible if wrongdoing is found, another suspension could come.
Licht, similar to Arians, said the way the contract is structured — one-year, $1 million with no guaranteed money — allows them to get out if Brown either doesn’t fit in or the situation off the field warrants.
“It’s an opportunity that we’re giving him, another opportunity, but it’s a one-year deal and if it doesn’t work, there’s no risk,” Licht said. “No risk.”
In his first press conference after the signing, Arians said Brown would be gone if he caused any problems.
“(Brown and Arians) had a very candid conversation and I don’t want to paraphrase,” Licht said. “But Bruce said to me, ‘He’ll be good.'”
Licht reiterated that Brown’s attitude has been “awesome so far.”
Said Licht: “I was always told, as far as his work ethic goes, there is nothing like it, and that is definitely true. He just loves the game and loves to work.”
The Bucs have a talented offense, especially at the wide receiver position. And that includes two of the NFL’s best in Pro Bowlers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin (who is expected to play Sunday despite a broken finger). Arians and Licht both talked to the receiving group before Brown came in.
“It was just to make sure we’re good,” Licht recounted. “I personally talked to Mike and Chris, as well and they said, ‘Hey, we just want to win. We just want to win.’ For them it was, ‘Whatever we can do.'”
“We have a really great locker room,” Licht concluded. “A selfless locker room and especially at that position. They embraced it.”
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