September 07, 2019
Some of you will read the headline to this article and get mad it was written at all. But the beauty of asking whether the Eagles should consider signing Antonio Brown is that people on both sides of the aisle will call me an idiot for posing the question, so it is a no brainer to discuss this on the NFL's opening weekend. Let's get weird.
I think there are reasonable cases to be made on both sides of this argument, so let's lay them out separately.
One of the things that have hit home for me the most since I started covering professional sports "for real" is how much character and mental makeup matters, individually and within a team construct. You see players of all talent levels come through for workouts, watch teams spend thousands of hours whittling down their draft lists, and often what you learn is that it's the things we don't see — someone's work ethic, their ability to respond to criticism, etc. — that determine whether or not they can be an impact player.
No one can dispute that Brown has possessed the talent and the work ethic to be one of the league's elite receivers over the last half-decade plus. What is up for debate now is whether his theoretical product will continue to outpace the circus that surrounds him away from the field.
The Eagles have been through a lot of adversity over the last two seasons, and one of the biggest reasons they won a Super Bowl and had a surprise playoff run the following year is the togetherness of the group. "We all we got!" sounds like pretty standard sports speak, but the team's camaraderie is real. Nick Foles' ability to deliver when it mattered went a long way, but he was empowered by a full roster and staff of people who believed in him and brought out the best in him.
It may be tough for one player to undercut that, but Brown has been on a different level this offseason. The mere act of choosing a helmet turned into a national story, with the receiver threatening to not play if he didn't get his way. His behavior has been downright erratic — a day after reportedly offering an emotional apology to his teammates for his recent behavior and argument with GM Mike Mayock, Brown publicly demanded the Raiders cut him, which they of course obliged.
The difficulty with understanding the Brown situation is that it's not especially clear what is bothering him and causing this behavior. That makes it hard to figure out how one's culture and existing locker room would respond to bringing him in, and how you could best work with him to get the most out of him.
Philadelphia's current skill position group, by the way, has an argument as the best in the NFL. They lack a superstar No. 1 guy, but their top four of Jeffery/Jackson/Agholor/Arcega-Whiteside is strong, and when you combine that quartet with an elite tight end (Zach Ertz) and a super-promising backup (Dallas Goedert), the potential for a special passing attack is already brewing. It's a group you can already call better than the won that took home a Super Bowl two seasons ago.
If this were the Donovan McNabb era and the Eagles were running out the likes of Todd Pinkston and James Thrash in NFC Championship games, it'd be a different story. But there is not a burning need to go out and add a wideout right now, especially one bringing a bushel of question marks to the table. Why uproot things at the risk of a massive downside?
So that's the pessimist's angle. Here's the more fun one...
The other side of the locker room argument — it is a lot easier to deal with wild personalities in a football locker room simply because there are so many more people involved than in, say, the NBA. And these guys are used to playing with teammates of all sorts. Elite college and pro programs bring together guys from rural and urban areas, poor and rich families, different political backgrounds, and they all come together one day a week and try to smash their opponent.
I think the "distraction" element is way overblown in sports on a general level. Most players will tell you they don't need to be friends with teammates to win with them. The size of an NFL locker room makes it easy to find kindred spirits and people who can bring out the best in you as a player and teammate. Brown may not have had that in Oakland, but Philadelphia has a strong group of winners who demand but also create respect in their locker room.
Ultimately, his relationship with Carson Wentz and Doug Pederson is what would matter most, and the Eagles hired Pederson in the first place in part due to his emotional intelligence. People will spend all Saturday pointing to the Patriots as the sort of organization who can take a chance on a guy like Brown because of the institutional culture, rightfully so. But when you talk about culture, the Eagles have been elite on that front for damn near two decades, a Chip Kelly blip aside.
And then there's the on-field stuff, which is what really matters.
With all due respect to their current wideouts, Brown would be the team's best skill position player by a comfortable margin. Whereas guys like Jeffery and Jackson are good, sometimes even great NFL receivers, Brown is a Hall of Fame level talent. He changes the complexion of a game when he is on the field, and he puts up freakish numbers year in and year out in spite of teams committing considerable resources to stop him. He hits you early, he hits you often, and he never stops.
This is a team with Super Bowl aspirations in mind, and Brown has proven he can rise to the occasion under pressure several times over. In six playoff games over his last four playoff appearances, Brown has averaged nearly 113 yards per game and scored four touchdowns over that time, with a career yard per reception average of 16.4 in the playoffs. Regardless of when the game is being played or against who, Brown delivers.
Howie Roseman is always looking to upgrade the team whenever he can. Some of those efforts are more earnest than others — he's basically the guy in your fantasy league constantly lowballing opponents and hoping someone is dumb enough to accept — but the best thing you can say about him is that he does his due diligence, even if the team decides to pass on a move.
Personally, the Eagles would have to be more starved for talent for me to be interested in going after a guy like Brown. But if news breaks that No. 84 is taking his talents to South Philly, you and I both know we'll all be intrigued to see what comes next.
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