Antonio Brown to return to Bucs on one-year deal

TAMPA, Fla. ― The game was over, but there was one more score to be settled. Antonio Brown already had enjoyed his best performance of the season when the Bucs got the ball back with 2:24 remaining, leading the Atlanta Falcons 44-27 in January at Raymond James Stadium.

All Tampa Bay really needed to do was run the ball, melt the final minutes off the clock and finish the regular season finale with its fourth straight win and an 11-5 record.

But Brown, who already had a season-high eight catches on the day, needed three more receptions to give him 45 for the year and trigger a $250,000 bonus.

That’s when Tom Brady called three consecutive shovel passes to Brown for gains of 3, 6 and 2 yards to pick up the final first down of the game. It also put a quarter-million dollars in Brown’s pocket.

That kind of loyalty shown by Brady to Brown is what prompted the mercurial receiver to agree Wednesday to a one-year contract worth up to $6.5 million to return to the Bucs. The deal includes $3.5 million guaranteed and a $2 million signing bonus.

To create $4.69 million in salary-cap space, the Bucs restructured the contract of tight end Cameron Brate, who was scheduled to earn $6.5 million in 2021. Brate will receive a $2.425 million signing bonus and $1.075 million in 2021 with a team option for the final two years. Brate already had earned $250,000 in bonuses this year, so he is due to earn $3.75 million to remain with the team.

The Bucs appeared to be waiting for Brown to settle a civil dispute with Britney Taylor, his former personal trainer who accused him of sexual assault and rape. David Haas, Taylor’s attorney, confirmed the settlement last week, though NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said “the matter remains under review of the personal conduct policy.”

Taylor said Brown sexually assaulted her twice in 2017 and raped her the following year. Brown denied the allegations, saying in court filings that the encounters were consensual.

At 32, Brown gives the Bucs their full arsenal of pass catchers for Brady, who not only vouched for the former Steelers star a year ago but had him move into the mansion he is renting from Derek Jeter for several weeks.

Brown averaged 10.7 yards per catch during the regular season with Tampa Bay. He also caught eight passes in the playoffs, including a touchdown in the Bucs’ 31-9 win over the Chiefs in Super Bowl 55.

“He got here in great shape,” offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich said of Brown late last season. “I knew it would be a couple of weeks before he would be able to stick his foot in the ground and move the way he wants to move. Now I think he has an awareness and understanding of where he needs to be and how he can get the ball in his hands from a route standpoint and what he needs to do to get open.”

The Bucs’ ability to keep their Super Bowl 55 team almost completely intact is remarkable.

Twenty-two starters return from their championship team, including notable free agents who already had re-signed such as linebacker Lavonte David, tight end Rob Gronkowski, running back Leonard Fournette, defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh and kicker Ryan Succop. The Bucs also used the franchise player tag on receiver Chris Godwin.

The Bucs are working on a contract to re-sign backup quarterback Blaine Gabbert, which could be completed this week.

Brown initially joined Tampa Bay on a one-year, $1 million deal (with incentives) after serving an eight-game suspension at the start of the 2020 season for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. The suspension stemmed from his arrest in January, when he was accused of attacking the driver of a moving van at his Hollywood, Fla., home. He pleaded no contest in June to felony burglary with battery and two misdemeanor charges.

Brown keeps himself in remarkable shape, but he had gone more than a year without playing in a football game when he joined the Bucs.

Even so, he had a huge impact on the offense and caught one of the three touchdown passes thrown by Brady in Super Bowl 55.

Brown entered the final game against Atlanta needing 11 receptions to reach 45 on the season, igniting the bonus. He finished with 11 catches for 138 yards and two touchdowns. In three postseason games, he caught eight passes for 81 yards and two TDs.

The Bucs can only imagine what Brown will do in this offense given a full season. And you can bet Brady will do his best to make sure Brown gets all the passes — and money — that’s supposed to come his way.

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