OAKLAND — Oakland Raiders coach Jon Gruden said he hoped to see Antonio Brown return to training camp soon while defending the enigmatic receiver as he deals with frostbitten feet suffered in a cryotherapy mishap in France last month and a grievance against the league regarding his helmet.
“I support this guy, I think that’s what needs to be said,” Gruden said following the Raiders’ 14-3 exhibition-opening win against the Los Angeles Rams Saturday at the Oakland Coliseum. “I don’t know what anybody’s writing or what anybody thinks but this foot injury wasn’t his fault. This was a total accident. It really wasn’t his fault and it’s a serious injury. I know that some people are (joking about) it, but it’s really not a laughing matter. The guy is hurt, he didn’t do anything wrong and the helmet thing is a personal matter to him.”
Brown began camp on the Non-Football Injury list with the soles of his feet cracked and healing. He came off the list two days later and has participated in one pre-practice walkthrough, on July 28, and was limited on July 30 before leaving early.
The Raiders have had 11 camp practices and one preseason game thus far. He has not been at the Raiders’ Napa, California camp site as he gathered information on his feet and stewed about his helmet, believed to be a 10-year-old Schutt Air Advantage model, which the company no longer makes and, thus, is no longer certified by the National Operating Committee for Standards and Athletic Equipment. In short, it is illegal to use in games.
Brown, who believes the newer certified helmets protrude out and inhibit his vision while trying to catch the football, had a conference call with an independent arbitrator on Friday, though no ruling has been issued, sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter. One could come as early as next week. Should Brown wear the helmet in a game, the team is liable for a fine.
Other high-profile players such as Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, as well as a “handful of Raiders players,” per a league source, have balked at the change but have demurred.
“He has a strong feeling about what he’s worn on his head and we’re supporting him,” Gruden said of Brown. “We understand the league’s position as well so we’re in a tough spot and we hope Antonio is here soon because he’s exciting to be around. I’m excited. I’ve got some plays for him. I hope we can start calling them.”
And while Brown, acquired by Oakland in a trade for a third- and a fifth-round pick in March from the Pittsburgh Steelers and promptly given a three-year, $50.125 million contract, has reportedly threatened to retire if not allowed to wear his helmet, Gruden would not speculate.
“I have a lot of confidence that he’s one of the premier competitors that I’ve ever been around,” Gruden said. “And I’ve got a feeling he would play with no helmet, that’s how much he loves to play. But I’m not going to put words in anybody’s mouth. We’re going to support him and whatever his decision is, we’ll stand by it. But we’re confident that he’s going to be a huge factor for the Raiders for years to come.
“It was a total accident and injury that he’s looking to get right from and hopefully, with all the people that have seen it, that he’s gotten it cured and he’s ready to roll.”