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Risk vs. Reward: Should the Saints Sign Antonio Brown?

As the Saints fanbase hums with anticipation of the conclusion from Antonio Brown’s workout with the Saints this morning, a major question looms. Is the risk with signing Antonio Brown worth the potential reward? many have broached the topic from many angles and the evidence for and against continues to pile up. We’ll consolidate to three major criteria. The distraction, the money, and the player.

The Distraction
You don’t have to look far to get into Antonio Brown’s off field behavior. Even this story broke because Brown took to his Instagram to post a photo of his Free Agency Waiver form ahead of his workout. The story post was quickly taken down, likely at the strong suggestion of the Saints organization but then was replaced with a screen capture of an ESPN notification sharing the info that AB was working out with the Saints while his media player played “No Cap.”

This is just a small example of the types of antics that could separate Brown from an organization like the one that has been built in New Orleans. The Saints are notorious for keeping their business under their control and keeping a tight lid on things. Now you have a guy that is not even on the team at the moment breaking his own news. Not a friendly combination.

Let us not also forget the many events that transpired throughout 2019: the year of AB. From forcing his way out of Pittsburgh to deading a trade to the Bills, to the long-winded saga between Brown, the Raiders, and the Patriots which eventually ended his 2019 season — or so we thought.

On top of all of this, of course, looms large the sexual assault and rape allegations for his he currently faces a civil suit and the NFL is investigating. That investigation may make it so that Brown, even if he were to sign with New Orleans, never sees the field.

“Important note: The NFL has made clear that if someone signs AB, he’s likely headed to the Commissioner’s Exempt list until his investigation is complete.” per Ian Rapoport

So in order for Antonio Brown to contribute to the Saints playoff run, he would have to be cleared of all of his charges and removed from the exempt list (if placed on it) in time to be ready for the postseason. But the distractions do not end there.

What if Antonio Brown signs with the Saints and immediately become a detriment to their locker room due to another allegation? Or another racial slur directed at a GM? Or another social media meltdown? Is Sean Payton’s locker room strong enough to handle something like that? Well, the contract helps.

The Money
The Saints have one game remaining in 2019 as they travel to take on the Carolina Panthers Week 17 to close out the season. It is highly unlikely that AB would be ready, if signed, to participate in that game. Meaning the Saints could sign him to a very cheap deal and, at most, pay him one game’s salary for the season.

A player’s regular season contract has no bearing on their playoff payments. In other words, individual clubs are not responsible for paying players who play for their teams in the playoffs. That money comes from the league.

Per the CBA, the league is responsible for playoff salaries. The money is split evenly among players with escalating scales of pay as teams move deeper into the postseason. In 2016, the payments were as follows per SI:
Wild-Card Round—Division Winner: $25,000
Wild-Card Team: $23,000
Divisional Round: $25,000
Conference Championship: $46,000
Super Bowl Winner: $102,000
Super Bowl Loser: $51,000

This means if New Orleans were to sign AB, they may have to pay him for a week 17 gave but that is all. The rest, as they progressed through the playoffs and assuming AB was eligible to play, would be paid by the NFL. Another potential but major middle finger to the league.

Monetarily there is no risk for New Orleans signing Brown. If he becomes a distraction, the Saints cut him loose and that is the end of it. There is no guaranteed money in the postseason and at worst, any money he does get guaranteed would be trivial. As even if he was owed a $12M contract for some reason, New Orleans would owe him just above $705k. That is well worth it for the player Antonio Brown has always been.

The Player
We have looked at Brown’s negative effects off the field in previous organizations and the potential money he would be owed by New Orleans and the league. But when it comes to the player, there is little to no question that Brown can contribute.

The Saints have struggled for two seasons now to find a viable option at WR opposite the record-breaking performance of Michael Thomas. While the addition of Jared Cook has been outstanding for the club, another weapon at wideout would certainly not hurt.

As Michael Thomas sits with a record 145 catches on the season with still a game to go, the next WR on the reception list is Ted Ginn, Jr. with 29 catches – 5th on the team.The #3 receiver, Tre’Quan Smith sits with 13 catches on the season, 5 fewer than third-string Quarterback Taysom Hill. Smith also has one fewer receiving touchdown than Hill.

Brown has only played in one game this season. Week 2 when he suited up for the New England Patriots in the 43-0 rout of the Miami Dolphins. In that game he caught 4 passes for 54 yards and a touchdown. But you do not have to look back too far to see the type of games he put together regularly. Meanwhile, the Saints receivers behind Thomas has struggled for even Brown’s production from Week 2.

There is no way for New Orleans to forget about his efforts in the Week 16 game in New Orleans as he suited up for the Steelers for the last time where he put together 14 catches for 185 yards and 2 touchdowns. His 75 career receiving touchdowns are second most since he entered the league in 2010 which includes his rookie year where he caught 0 and this year where he has played only one single game.

Add that type of talent to a Saints offense that is seeing Drew Brees playing like he has never aged, Jared Cook come along strong as an outstanding addition, Michael Thomas who is rewriting the WR record books every week, and now an Alvin Kamara that has shown glimpses of being back and ready to roll and the Saints have easily the most potent offensive attack heading into the playoffs.

A seven-time Pro Bowlers, four-time First-Team All-Pro, two-time receiving yards leader and receptions leader, and the receiving touchdowns leader as recent as last season. Antonio Brown is an undeniable force on the football field.

However, despite all of that potential. That is what it is right now and nothing more. Potential. Coach Payton has a press conference scheduled for later today where I feel confident he will deflect any questions about AB with positive and diplomatic responses. But beyond that, we most wait to see if a contract agreement between the player and club are announced.

And then, any action from the league will surely be swift.

Updated: 12/27 3:17 PM
Coach Payton held his press conference where he was asked several questions by the media regarding Antonio Brown’s workout. Important information includes:

  • Saints have no plans to sign a WR at the moment, per Payton. Doing their due diligence to get a look at what and who are available.
  • New Orleans had 6 receivers present for the workout. Antonio Brown, Maurice Harris, TommyLee Lewis, Reggie Begelton, Travin Dural, and Tim White.
  • Coach Payton confirmed to Athletic Beat Writer Kat Terrell that he probably lied earlier this season when he said they had no interest in AB.
  • Harris has 40 career receptions for 432 yards and a touchdown in his 28 games played since 2016.
  • Team is doing their homework and would need more information from the league regarding Brown’s status if signed. But if they did not already have that information, why bring him in?