Antonio Brown has played nice since becoming a Tampa Bay Buccaneer, avoiding the personal explosions and domestic issues that led to his ignominious exit from the NFL for over a year. But the idea of him continuing to play Mr. Rogers in a cardigan beyond a four-month spell is dubious and believing he can be the Bucs' No. 2 next season is foolhardy.
That idea, it appears, is very much on the table after Ian Rapoport reported today that the Bucs are interested in bringing Brown back next season. Why that's interesting is Chris Godwin, the Bucs current No. 2 receiver behind Mike Evans, is a free agent this offseason and is expected to command a massive contract that averages in the $16-$20 million range. The Bucs also drafted Scotty Miller and Tyler Johnson the last two years and could roll with those four as their wide receivers in 2021.
That would be a mistake.
At this point in his career, Brown is unreliable both on and off the field. He's missing this week's playoff game because of a knee injury and, at 32 years old, is on the tail end of his career. Even more concerning, he's been accused of several domestic violence incidents, was just ordered to pay $100,000 to a woman who accused him of rape, and has had several other disturbing outbursts both as a player and a person. He is not someone you can trust, no matter how good an influence Tom Brady seemingly is on him.
Godwin, meanwhile, is the polar opposite of Brown. He's never been arrested or accused of a domestic incident. He's never complained about a lack of targets or called out his quarterback or punted a ball in his general manager's face or made every moment about him. Godwin is a team player who also produces on the field. That's what you want, not a loose canoon.
Godwin has scored 23 touchdowns in the last three seasons, exploded for 1,333 yards in 2019 and, despite missing time with injuries, had 65 catches for 840 yards and 7 TDs this year. He is expected to command a big contract this offseason, and the likelihood of the Bucs franchise tagging him seems slim. Still, letting a 25-year-old walk for the services of a maligned NFL elder statesman is a mistake.
The Bucs currently have just under $30 million in cap space in 2021. They could try and figure out a way to keep both Godwin and Brown, but with Evans under contract for over $16 million next season, the likelihood of them committing another big amount to Godwin plus pay Brown is unlikely. Instead, it appears they'll try and sign Brown to another prove-it deal and give Miller and Johnson more opportunities next season. They could also draft another wide receiver.
Perhaps Miller or Johnson can rise to the No. 2 spot, but expecting Brown to take over that role is foolhardy. He's proven countless times over the last three years to be unpredictable and unreliable. It's good to see him seemingly take steps forward this year toward being a better person. But he won't fool me a fourth time by expecting that to last.