Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians left the door open on Antonio Brown's future this week in his first comments after the receiver was suspended three games for violations of the NFL-NFLPA COVID-19 protocols.
With Brown and safety Mike Edwards penalized for misrepresenting their vaccination status, Arians was asked if they'll remain on the team and he said, “We’ll address their future at that time.” The answer appropriately fueled speculation.
One source said no decision has been made on whether Brown will return to the team after his suspension, and another said it is possible the team keeps the players -- with the insinuation being that it's possible they do not.
Arians was particularly frustrated, considering the efforts his team made in getting to 100% vaccination status. He also said he hoped the league would continue to look for players who were not honest about their vaccination status.
The suspensions may be a wake-up call for any players who also may have similarly misrepresented their status. It let any potential violators know there would be consequences.
In fact, teams let it be known to their players to get COVID booster shots, just in case any of their vaccination cards were not authentic. That way, their teams are safer and they are covered, regardless. That's the goal, to make sure everyone is protected.
The league, sources say, doesn't dismiss the possibility that other players have fake vaccination cards across the NFL. But given the fact that 80% of vaccinated players got their shots either at their clubs or with their supervision, the number should be relatively low. The hope is some questionable players get boosters now to increase the safety.
As for Brown, he accepted his suspension without appealing. But it was a process to get there -- and the NFL and NFLPA were in lockstep on the investigation, with the union's goal to protect its players as much as possible. "Joined at the hip" is how one source put it.
The NFL first floated a much longer suspension at Brown, as colleague Tom Pelissero noted, originally looking at 6-8 games. And the NFL looked at several things before Brown came clean, calling the clinic where he claimed to get his vaccination and looking at how the clinic operates before coming to the conclusion that something was wrong.
Presented with facts, Brown agreed to the suspension -- and he was likely out two more games anyway with an ankle injury. Since then, Brown and Edwards have gotten vaccinated.
Buying, selling or using fake vaccination cards is a federal crime. A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Justice declined comment to Pelissero on this specific matter.