49ers justified by not signing former Buccaneers WR Antonio Brown

Antonio Brown #81 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Antonio Brown #81 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) /

Remember when there was a serious argument the 49ers should have pursued wide receiver Antonio Brown? Well, glad that didn’t happen.

To quote Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians after wide receiver Antonio Brown literally walked out of the Bucs’ Week 17 game against the New York Jets, “he is no longer a Buc.”

Whatever is going on with Brown, whether he’s got some mental health issues to deal with or is just plainly a self-absorbed jerk, won’t change the fact his multiple run-ins with teams dating back to his time with the Pittsburgh Steelers, through the Oakland Raiders, then the New England Patriots before joining the Buccaneers likely stains his reputation beyond that of him joining an NFL team ever again.

One team happily absent from that list? The San Francisco 49ers.

49ers could have been in on Antonio Brown

No, this isn’t the case of just tossing the Niners into the ring of teams that didn’t sign Brown and looking at hindsight, saying “good thing that didn’t happen.”

There was actually an argument, an understandable one, stemming from this particular piece from Sports Illustrated on why Brown could potentially be a good fit for San Francisco entering 2020. The specific rationale was as follows:

"The receiver room is as green as they come, which is not ideal given the pressure of this season.There is no denying Brown’s talent, and it is not like he is some washed up wide receiver from a physical standpoint. The year before last, Brown caught 104 balls for nearly 1,300 yards and led the league with 15 touchdowns receptions. Peruse Brown’s social media accounts and you’ll see he is clearly in phenomenal shape for a soon-to-be 32 year old."

The article, from the summer of 2020, also accounted for the loss of veteran wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders in free agency, fellow wideout Deebo Samuel‘s foot fracture and the fact then-rookie receiver Brandon Aiyuk was still an unknown commodity.

Head coach Kyle Shanahan previously told reporters in 2019, before Brown was traded from Pittsburgh to Oakland, the 49ers weren’t interested. Yet the context changed a lot an offseason later with Sanders gone and Samuel hurt.

The Niners didn’t make the move, though. Good thing.

49ers can be happy they didn’t sign Antonio Brown

The Patriots and Buccaneers gave Brown a chance, probably influenced heavily by quarterback Tom Brady and both Arians and Pats head coach Bill Belichick’s team-first mentality and “we only care what you do here” approach.

This isn’t to say San Francisco’s own front office and locker room wouldn’t have been sufficient enough to absorb Brown’s personality. But after having character-related issues with high-profile players like linebacker Reuben Foster in the past, it never seemed likely Shanahan and the 49ers would be willing to take on another risk.

Read More: Deebo Samuel is now 49ers’ top offensive skill player

Tampa Bay managed it about as well as it could have. Brown was a small but noticeable piece in the Buccaneers’ Super Bowl championship last season, and he managed 545 receiving yards and four touchdowns for them in seven games played in 2021, too.

Yet the Niners, who finally put together a good receiving room with Samuel and Aiyuk, didn’t bite on that need. It’s anyone’s guess what backlash and finger-pointing they would have experienced if they took a flier on Brown, and everything else played out as it had.

But San Francisco didn’t go down that road. And the team is surely thankful it never did in the first place.

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