Former Steelers receiver Antonio Brown has a unique place in NFL history.
Now that Antonio Brown has announced he is retiring from the NFL for at least the second time, questions about his place in the history of the game can begin.
At 5-foot-10, Brown was never the biggest receiver, nor the fastest. A sixth-round pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers out of Central Michigan in 2010, he was never expected to become a team’s No. 1 receiver. But through sheer savvy, determination, expert route-running and hard work, he turned himself into a receiver on the cusp of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Walking away from the game with 841 career receptions, 11,263 yards and 75 touchdowns, Brown’s accolades rank up with the best players at the position. Only 10 Hall of Fame receivers have gained more yards or scored more touchdowns. Nine have more receptions. Brown has more All-Pro teams than Marvin Harrison and more Pro Bowl selections than Randy Moss and Terrell Owens. All three of those receivers are enshrined in Canton.
Brown didn’t start off as the dominant player he would become. When the Steelers made it to Super Bowl XLV in his rookie season, he was the fifth receiver on the roster and caught only one pass for one yard in the game. But starting in 2013, Brown began a stretch of play unparalleled in league history.
From 2013-18, Brown had 121 more catches than any other receiver, 571 more yards and 20 more touchdowns. He recorded six consecutive 100-catch seasons; no other receiver in history even has five. He also scored at least eight touchdowns in all of those seasons, a streak exceeded only by Jerry Rice and Harrison.
Over the past decade, despite not becoming a regular starter until 2012 and playing just one game in 2019, Brown is second to Larry Fitzgerald in receptions and behind only Julio Jones in yards. No receiver has caught more touchdowns over the last 10 years. Brown and the Saints’ Michael Thomas are the only two receivers in NFL history with two 125-catch seasons; he and former Lions receiver Calvin Johnson are the only receivers with back-to-back seasons of at least 1,600 yards.
Brown and Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger combined to form one of the most prolific passing attacks in NFL history. They connected for 74 touchdowns, a mark exceeded only by the duos of Steve Young-Rice, Peyton Manning-Harrison, and Dan Marino-Mark Clayton. But their relationship began to sour late in the 2018 season. Roethlisberger accused Brown of running a bad route in Week 16 that led to a costly interception against the Saints. The following week, Brown and Roethlisberger got into a heated exchange that led to the receiver skipping multiple practices that week and eventually sitting out of the Steelers’ last game of the season.
Brown was dominant on the field but a malcontent off of it
Brown wanted out of Pittsburgh, and we got his wish when the Steelers traded him to the Oakland Raiders. For all that he accomplished on the field, Brown’s career will be remembered for the way it ended. His time in Oakland was a fiasco; he never played a game for the Raiders and was released following multiple allegations of sexual misconduct. He signed on with the New England Patriots and played in their Week 2 game in Miami, but the Patriots cut him after he sent threatening text messages to the woman accusing him.
Brown worked out with the Saints last December, and with Seahawks’ quarterback Russell Wilson earlier this month, but no team has expressed a willingness to sign him. He’ll likely never play in the NFL again, a reality he seemed to recognize on Monday when he wrote on Twitter he was retiring.
“Is it time to walk away I done everything in the game?!! at this point the risk is greater than the reward thank you everyone who been part of this journey i sincerely thank you for everything! life goes on 84!,” he wrote.
Brown will be eligible for the Hall of Fame in five years. By that time, the memory of what has transpired over the last 12 months may have subsided. Or the guardians of the Hall, the voters, may decide to punish him for his transgressions as they did with Owens by keeping him out in his first year of eligibility. Brown will take his deserved place in Canton sooner or later, but if he has to wait a few more years, he only has himself to blame.