The Buccaneers Didn’t Cancel Antonio Brown, and Bruce Arians Doesn’t Care What You Think

Taking a moral and ethical stand by implementing a zero-tolerance policy is one thing. Having zero healthy wide receivers is apparently another, more pressing concern for Bruce Arians.

Last October, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach took a firm stand with his newly-signed, talented, yet troubled wide receiver Antonio Brown.

After Brown’s various personal-conduct policy violations had forced the Pittsburgh Steelers, Las Vegas Raiders, and New England Patriots to go different directions, he would be welcome in Tampa only under a zero-tolerance policy. Any more transgressions and he would be gone from an NFL team once more.

Does faking a COVID-19 vaccine card, particularly with a brand-new, fast-moving variant causing havoc across the league, if not the world, count?

Apparently not. The Buccaneers have games to win, after all.

On a day of disastrous injury news, the Buccaneers welcomed back Brown

Antonio Brown and Tom Brady will soon be on the field together again
Antonio Brown | Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Losing 9-0 to the New Orleans Saints on Sunday night was bad enough, dropping the Bucs to 10-4 in a crowded race for the top seed in the NFC. But that was the least of the bad news. Their top receiver, Chris Godwin, had injured his knee early in the game, but the initial prognosis was a sprained MCL, and though he would likely miss the final three games of the regular season, he was expected back for the playoffs.

Then Monday came, and an MRI confirmed that Godwin had actually torn his ACL and was lost for the year.

Also injured Sunday night was the other top wideout, Mike Evans, to a hamstring injury, leaving his status for future games in doubt. And then add in running back Leonard Fournette, also out with a hamstring injury, and the roof was caving in on the defending Super Bowl champions at the worst possible time.

But Monday was also the day Brown’s three-game suspension for his vaccine-card shenanigans would finally come to an end. And sure, Arians had once said that Brown was operating with a zero-tolerance policy. But how could the Buccaneers possibly tolerate trying to win games with Scotty Miller and Ronald Jones II?

The Buccaneers have not been immune from criticism for re-instating Brown

Needless to say, even before the injury trifecta Sunday night, the Buccaneers were being viewed with a jaundiced eye as it became increasingly apparent that Brown was not going to be released by the team for a particularly galling violation of the league’s COVID-19 policies.

Making, buying, or selling fake vaccine cards is, after all, a federal crime.

On Monday, Arians had the hypocrisy of his shifted goalposts thrown back at him. He was defiant in response.

“I could give a s*** what [people] think,” he said during his weekly Zoom session with the media. “The only thing I care about is this football team and what’s best for us.”

But what about last October’s tough talk of zero tolerance? Keep in mind, Godwin and Evans were healthy last October.

“The history has changed since that statement,” Arians said. “A lot of things went on last year that I was very proud of him, and I made a decision that this was best for our football team.”

Appropriateness aside, Brown can help keep the Buccaneers’ season afloat


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Brown was a key contributor to the Buccaneers’ Super Bowl championship. In eight games last season, he had 45 catches for 483 yards and four touchdowns. He then had two touchdowns in the postseason. In 2021, Brown has 29 catches for 414 yards and four touchdowns in five games.

And while it may look unseemly to give Brown yet another chance, despite having added such a gross act on top of the pile of accusations made against him over the past three years, it is a cold, sad fact that Brown is perhaps the Buccaneers’ only chance to remain competitive offensively with Godwin gone and Evans and Fournette likely to miss at least one week, and perhaps more.

Win now. Deal with the backlash later.

“We’ll wait and see at Wednesday, Thursday practice, see how much [Brown] can do,” Arians said. “Hopefully we can get 30-35 plays out of him.”

Stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference