The Tampa Bay Buccaneers announced Thursday that they have released wide receiver Antonio Brown, less than 24 hours after he posted a lengthy statement stating he intends to undergo surgery to repair his injured ankle and that the Bucs have engaged in an "ongoing cover-up" surrounding the events of last week's game versus the New York Jets.
In releasing Brown, the Buccaneers said in a statement that he was "cleared to play by our medical team prior to the start of the game and at no point during the game did he indicate to our medical personnel that he could not play."
"The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have terminated the contract of Antonio Brown, effective immediately," the Bucs said in a statement. "While Antonio did receive treatment on his ankle and was listed on the injury report the week leading up to last Sunday's game, he was cleared to play by our medical team prior to the start of the game and at no point during the game did he indicate to our medical personnel that he could not play. We have attempted, multiple times throughout this week, to schedule an evaluation by an outside orthopedic specialist, yet Antonio has not complied. Maintaining the health and wellness of our players is of the utmost importance to our organization."
Brown said Wednesday night in his first public comments since he exited the Buccaneers' win over the Jets that "I could not use my ankle to safely perform my playing responsibilities. On top of that, my pain was extreme." During the third quarter of Sunday's Bucs' comeback win over the Jets, Brown could be seen pulling off his helmet, jersey and shoulder pads on the sideline. He then ran off the field, doing jumping jacks and waving to the fans at MetLife Stadium.
Brown said he was approached on the sideline by Bucs head coach Bruce Arians, who asked what was wrong with him. After telling the coach it was his ankle, Brown said Arians "then ordered me to get on the field." Brown said he told Arians that he couldn't play and was then told, "You're done," by Arians.
Arians addressed Brown's allegations during a Thursday news conference.
"Just to clear you up on some things that happened: At no point and time during that game did he ever ask the trainer or doctor about his ankle," Arians said. "That's the normal protocol, you go through protocols during games. I was never notified of it. So obviously, that was the disturbing thing when we were looking for him to go back into the game. He was very upset at halftime about who was getting targeted, got that calmed down, players took care of that. It started again on the sideline, we called for the personnel group that he had played in the entire game, he refused to go in the game. That's when I look back and saw him basically wave off the coach. I then went back, approached him about what was going on, 'I ain't playin'. 'What's going on?' 'I ain't gettin' the balli think '. That's when I said you're done, get the F out of here, and that's the end of it. And we're working on Carolina. That's the end of the story, and hopefully it ends today."
Arians' comments Thursday are in line with what he told reporters on Monday when he said he was not informed by Brown that he was unable to play due to his health. "I mean, what happened. ... It was pretty obvious what happened. He left the field and that was it," Arians said at the time.
On Thursday, Brown also posted separate alleged text exchanges with Arians and Tom Brady's trainer Alex Guerrero. The alleged exchange with Arians details a Friday conversation regarding the status of his ankle. His alleged conversation with Guerrero surrounds Brown seeking reimbursement for a $100,000 payment issued to Guerrero for treatment and Brown severing ties with Guerrero.
NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Thursday that Brown's issues with the Bucs began in the middle of last week when he asked the organization to guarantee $1 million worth of incentives in his contract. The team denied Brown's request, per Rapoport.
Brown detailed his account of Sunday's events in his Wednesday statement.
"I could not make football plays on that ankle," Brown said. "Yes, I walked off the field. But there's a major difference between launching from the line and taking hits, compared to jogging off the field with a rush of emotions going through your mind. I am reflecting on my reaction, but there was a trigger. The trigger was someone telling me that I'm not allowed to feel pain. I acknowledge my past. But my past does not make me a second class citizen. My past does not forfeit my right to be heard when I am in pain.
"First they cut me. Now they cage me. Instead of asking how I felt or getting to the bottom of it, the team texted my camp promoting a totally false narrative that I randomly acted out without any explanation. They even told us in writing 'don't spin this' any other way. I have stress, I have things I need to work on. But the worst part of this has been the Bucs' repeated effort to portray this as a random outburst. They are telling people that first I walked off, then I was cut. No. No. No. I was cut first and then I went home. They threw me out like an animal and I refused to wear their brand on my body, so I took my jersey off."
Following the game, Arians told reporters Brown was "no longer a Buc."
Week 17 was Brown's second game back with the team after serving a three-game suspension for misrepresenting his vaccination status in violation of the NFL-NFLPA COVID-19 protocols. He had previously missed multiple games due to an ankle injury. In Week 16 against the Carolina Panthers, Brown played 53 snaps. Brown missed two practices last week due to his ankle and was listed as questionable leading up to the Jets game, but ultimately was cleared to play. Brown stated Wednesday he underwent an MRI that "shows broken bone fragments stuck in my ankle, the ligament torn from the bone, and cartilage loss."
The Buccaneers signed Brown midway through the 2020 season after he finished serving an eight-game suspension for multiple violations of the league's personal-conduct policy, the result of a no contest plea to burglary and battery charges from a Jan. 2020 incident in Florida, as well as accusations that he sent intimidating texts to a woman who accused Brown of making past unwanted advances toward her.
Brown compiled 87 catches for 1,082 yards with eight touchdowns in 15 regular-season games with Tampa Bay. In three playoff games, he totaled eight receptions for 81 yards with two touchdowns, including one score in the Bucs' Super Bowl LV win.