Antonio Brown facing uncertain future with Tampa Bay Buccaneers after fake vaccination card suspension

Antonio Brown, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Antonio Brown will miss Week 13 against the Atlanta Falcons, serving the first of a three-game suspension for using a fake COVID-19 vaccination card. But when he is reinstated by the league, there are no guarantees Brown returns to the field.

The 33-year-old hasn’t suited up for the Buccaneers since Week 5, a matchup that saw him finish with nine receptions for 93 receiving yards and one touchdown. He came out of that game with a heel injury and ankle sprain, which have sidelined him ever since.

But the injuries aren’t the reason why Brown’s future in Tampa Bay is uncertain. When he signed with the Buccaneers before the 2020 season, due to the strong encouragement of Tom Brady, head coach Bruce Arians said if Brown screwed up once, “he’s gone.”

Following the announcement of his suspension this week, Arians made it clear that Brown and teammate Mike Edwards are facing uncertain futures with the franchise.

“Obviously we have two guys suspended. The league did their due diligence and we move on. I will not address those guys for the next three weeks. They’ll just be working out and we’ll address their future at that time. Other than that, there’s really nothing to say.”

Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians on Antonio Brown’s future with team, via NFL.com

NFL insider Ian Rapoport spoke to multiple sources within the team and Arians casting doubt on both players’ futures doesn’t appear to be a false threat. One source said no decision has been made regarding whether or not Brown will be allowed to return. Another team source said it’s only “possible” that Tampa Bay keeps both players upon their Week 16 reinstatement.

  • Antonio Brown stats (2021): 29 receptions, 418 receiving yards, 14.4 ypc, four touchdowns

Keep in mind, Arians’ comments about Brown needing just one bad off-field decision to lose his roster spot came before Brady and the Buccaneers won a Super Bowl. There have been no other issues for the former All-Pro receiver and he is a close friend with Brady.

But Arians is also a cancer survivor, part of a group at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19. He is also the voice of an organization that championed its 100% vaccination rate before the season. Given the Buccaneers believed Brown’s vaccination card was real when he reported for training camp, that may also influence a decision.

Given his significance to the Buccaneers’ offense, his relationship with Brady and an otherwise clean record since he arrived in Tampa Bay, it would be a surprise if Brown is released. But he’s on thinner ground than ever before and it’s clear Arians is ready to move on at moment’s notice.

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