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‘Helmetgate’ is sort of drama Raiders get with Antonio Brown

Updated August 12, 2019 - 6:25 pm

It’s not like the good ol’ days, when the only distraction Antonio Brown brought the Raiders was competing in the Iditarod while barefoot. Or something like that.

You know, the good ol’ days of last week.

So this is all very … predictable?

When they traded with the Steelers in March for the Pro Bowl wide receiver and bestowed him a three-year contract worth $50.125 million ($30.125 million guaranteed), the Raiders talked about the enthusiasm with which Brown plays, that it’s so contagious, countless free agents told the team how excited they would be to join him.

Which makes the other part of his persona so fascinating.

How can a guy who works so hard on his craft — more committed and diligent and driven than anyone, says head coach Jon Gruden and quarterback Derek Carr — also be so contentious about something like which helmet he wears?

How does the guy busting his tail to prepare for a season then throw such a fit about something that was collectively bargained and is the same for every NFL player?

Perhaps some answers will come Tuesday night, when Episode 2 of “Hard Knocks,” featuring the Raiders, airs on HBO.

Perhaps storylines about bad feet and hot air balloons will be replaced with ones about helmet standards.

Perhaps we should have seen this coming.

Yeah. We should have.

The latest installment of off-field training camp news brought by Brown was his refusal to wear the NFL’s mandated model of helmet, for which on Monday he lost a grievance filed with the league, one he had as much chance of winning as Nathan Peterman does of beating out Carr.

It then became Brown’s move to make and, despite earlier suggesting he would retire at age 31 if not allowed to wear the same helmet he has the entirety of a nine-year pro career, he posted a statement across social media about, “looking forward to rejoining my teammates on the field.”

Because, well, even for a player who has made $70 million in the NFL, leaving another $30 million on the table over a spat about his helmet wasn’t happening.

So that’s that and Brown will return to practice as soon as his cryotherapy frostbitten feet don’t resemble something out of “Evil Dead.”

Or is it?

“As great a player as he is, and he’s awesome, probably the best wide receiver in the game, Antonio Brown is a me-first attention guy who thrives off all this stuff,” said Mike Pritchard, the former Rancho High star wideout who played nine NFL seasons with three teams. “Those players aren’t going to help you win a championship. Pittsburgh came to understand that after nine years with him and wasn’t going to pay him the money he wanted.

“The Raiders did, and they’re just now finding out what comes with all of that, and that’s a headache. But this is what they paid for.”

For this, the Raiders are left with the lone option of supporting Brown, of standing behind him publicly and hoping privately that the self-adulation subsides and the player emerges.

Brown has already remained away from the team in Napa, Calif., for stretches of camp, again forming a vision of a star marching to his own agenda.

Expect more diva

It’s not as though Gruden has a choice. He has to back Brown. The Raiders need him healthy and productive to reach and perhaps surpass whatever potential exists in the 2019 roster.

But to believe all the self-induced drama and distractions will end now that an arbitrator has ruled on the helmet issue and Brown said he is returning to the team wouldn’t give proper credit to the diva the league has come to know.

I mean, Carr hasn’t even missed him on a route for real yet, or not looked his way, or threw to another in the end zone …

“Take the helmet issue,” Pritchard said. “Go and look on Google about how many different ways you can get a concussion or other head injury. Countless ways. His old helmet wasn’t going to protect him any more from a hit across the middle than the new one.

“The NFL is about money and this is the model they have mandated and there is nothing wrong with that. If you’re going to play in their league, you’re going to wear their equipment. Antonio Brown just once again wanted to be different. That’s who he is.”

If the Raiders didn’t know who that was before, they’re learning.

And it shouldn’t have taken a helmet tantrum to prove it.

More Raiders: Follow at reviewjournal.com/Raiders and @NFLinVegas on Twitter.

Contact columnist Ed Graney at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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