EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — There has been plenty of speculation bubbling around about why Antonio Brown left the field on Sunday in the third quarter of the Bucs-Jets game, removing his jersey, pads and shirt before flashing peace signs to the crowd while he ran through the end zone.
While many speculated initially that Brown was angry for being held out of the game, NFL Media's Ian Rapoport reported on Monday morning that it was the opposite.
Social media speculated heavily following the images. One of the more common speculations was that Tampa was limiting Brown's playing time as $1.2 million in performance incentives were approaching. The 33-year-old receiver was eight catches away from a $333,333, 55 yards away from another $333,333 and one receiving touchdown away from another $333,333 bonus.
"He is no longer a Buc," Tampa Bay head coach Bruce Arians said bluntly after Tampa's comeback win over the Jets.
But no one gave the story on what made Brown snap.
However, NFL Media's Rapoport reported Monday morning that it was Brown who did not want to go into the game.
SUBSCRIBE to the Locked On Bucs podcast, your daily podcast for all things Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Rapoport said on NFL Network's Good Morning Football that Arians and the offensive staff was trying to get Brown into the game, but he refused, saying he wasn't healthy with his ankle. Brown didn't practice on Thursday or Friday, allegedly because of the injury.
Arians and the offensive staff was reportedly convinced Brown was healthy enough to play, according to Rapoport. As he refused to go in, they reportedly told Brown if he wasn't going to go into the game when they told him to, then he could not be there. At that point, they allegedly threw him off the sideline with intentions to cut him from the team.
Rapoport also reported there was growing frustration among the Bucs with Brown and his honesty and with his rehab with his ankle injury, which led everything to bubble over.
Brown has not yet spoken out on the issue specifically and the Bucs have not publicly addressed specific reasons why Brown left the field.
"It's a difficult situation," Tom Brady said after the game. "Everybody should do what they can to help him in ways that he really needs it. We all love him. We care about him deeply. We want to see him be at his best. Unfortunately, it won't be with our team. ... I think everyone should be very compassionate and empathetic toward some very difficult things that are happening."
The Bucs were down two touchdowns to the Jets at one point before coming back to win 28-24 to move to 12-4 on the year.
The Bucs brought in Antonio Brown last season for their upcoming playoff run largely at the request of Brady. The signing came just after Brown served an eight-game NFL ban following multiple allegations of rape and sexual misconduct and a no-contest plea on a felony burglary charge. Arians said one screw up and Brown would be off the team.
Brown was instrumental in their journey through the playoffs and eventually their Super Bowl victory.
He was supposed to be instrumental again for the Bucs after star wide receiver Chris Godwin and running back Leonard Fournette both suffered season-ending injuries in their loss to the Saints two weeks ago.
Sunday was Brown's second game back after a three-game suspension for violating the NFL's COVID-19 protocols after he was accused of obtaining a fake vaccine card.
Arians reportedly told FOX's Jay Glazer on Sunday afternoon he was trying to get Brown into the game but Brown refused and that he had 'never seen anything' like Brown's dramatic exit.
The Bucs released Brown and it's hard to figure out what will happen for him next. It's hard to see a team going out and signing him but with one week left in the season and playoffs approaching, it's not out of the question that a team could try to bring him on. Let's not forget that's what Tampa did last season.
Get caught up on all things NFL with the Locked On NFL podcast, your daily podcast for NFL news, analysis, rumors and predictions.