A day after Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson expressed interest in adding embattled free-agent wide receiver Antonio Brown, coach John Harbaugh said the decision was largely out of his hands.
The NFL is still investigating accusations of rape and sexual assault against Brown, 32, made in a civil lawsuit last year by his former trainer. If Brown signs with a team, the league could place him on commissioner Roger Goodell’s exempt list, which would allow Brown to be present at a team’s facility for meetings, workouts and medical treatment but would bar him from practicing or playing in games.
“Decisions will be made based on whatever they’re made, and I don’t think he’s really available to even sign right now, so it’s not really a conversation that you have until he’s available to sign,” Harbaugh said in a conference call Thursday with reporters. “Maybe I’m wrong about that. That’s something that I’ll have to ask [general manager] Eric [DeCosta] about, where that stands with the league and the player, but that’s where we stand on it, at least from my perspective.”
Jackson, who worked out with Brown, the cousin of Ravens wide receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown, in April, ignited another round of speculation about Antonio Brown’s future in Baltimore in comments made Wednesday. Asked about his workouts with the former Pittsburgh Steelers star, Jackson said it was “nice” throwing to him. He added: “I was hoping we would get him. I’m still hoping, a little bit.”
Jackson said he spoke to team officials about Brown after the workout. DeCosta said in April that he would keep his thoughts about Brown “in-house,” and he spoke of his excitement for the team’s young receivers when asked about him again the following month. Until Jackson’s comments Wednesday, the Ravens hadn’t been linked to the receiver in over a month.
“Hey, I respect him for feeling that way,” Harbaugh said. “I respect his opinion on it. I definitely appreciate hearing how that workout went, whenever it was. I mean, it was a long time ago now. But we’ll look at any and every player at all times. So Antonio Brown’s no exception.”
Brown, a six-time All-Pro selection, hasn’t played since Week 2 of the 2019 season. The Oakland Raiders voided his guaranteed money after he missed nearly all of training camp last year, then cut him in September after he demanded to be released. After signing with the New England Patriots in early September, Brown was named in a lawsuit by a former trainer, who alleged that he sexually assaulted her three times. Days later, a second woman accused Brown of sexual misconduct. The Patriots released him after he’d played in just one game.
Even with Tom Brady now at quarterback, Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians said in March that Brown was not a free-agent target, calling him “not a fit here.” Since former running back Ray Rice’s 2014 arrest, the Ravens have generally avoided players with records of domestic violence.
Jackson on Wednesday called Brown a “great guy.” He added: “He’s a cool, down-to-earth guy and he’s passionate about the sport of football. ... I feel like the locker room here is different from any other locker room. It’s like a brotherhood going on. It’s none of that outside noise; it’s strictly inside. We worry about each other; we worry about what we have going on. We want to win, and I can just tell in him that he wants to win. He wants to play ball.”
Brown announced last week that he’d retired from the NFL, only to unretire and call on Goodell to provide him “clarity” on the league’s investigation “immediately.” He wrote on Instagram that he’s “complied with each and every ask of your investigations throughout the past 11 months” and has “worked on all aspects of my life this past year and have become a better man because of it.”