OAKLAND -- As the Raiders kicked off their 2019 preseason Saturday night against the Los Angeles Rams at the Coliseum, everyone had one question on their mind: What in the world is going on with Antonio Brown.
The star wide receiver has taken part in only part of one practice during training camp as he tries to heal from a reported case of "extreme frostbite" on his feet.
But there's more. On Friday, reports surfaced that Brown's absence has been more about the NFL's new helmet mandate that will force him to switch models of headgear this season, as his helmet is too old. Brown has worn the same helmet for his entire career, and reportedly has informed the Raiders that he will not play football again if he does not win his grievance with the NFL to wear his desired helmet.
So, of course, after the Raiders beat the Rams 14-3, head coach Jon Gruden was asked if he thought he'd be seeing his prized offseason acquisition soon.
"I hope so," Gruden said. "There's been a lot of reports out there. I can't say I agree with all of them, certainly. But I support this guy. I think that's what needs to be said. I don't know what anybody's writing or what anybody thinks, but this foot injury wasn't his fault. It was a total accident. It really wasn't his fault, and it's a serious injury. I know some people are smarting at it, but it's really not a laughing matter. The guy is hurt. He's innocent. He didn't do anything wrong.
"And the helmet thing is a personal matter to him," Gruden said. "He has a strong feeling about what's he worn on his head, and we're supporting him. We understand the league's position as well, so we're in a tough spot. We understand the league's position as well, so we're in a tough spot. We hope Antonio is back here soon because he's exciting to be around. I've got some plays for him and I hope I can start calling them."
But does Gruden actually think the four-time All-Pro selection will actually walk away from the game if he can't wear the helmet he wants?
"I'm not going to speculate," Gruden said. "I've got a lot of confidence. He's one of the premier competitors out I've ever been around and I 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 anyone's mouth. We're going to support him and whatever his decision is, we'll stand by it, but we're confident he's going to be a huge factor for the Raiders for years to come."
Back to the feet, Gruden reiterated that the injury was not Brown's fault.
"I'm not going to get into the extent of it, but I will say that it was a total accident. It's an injury that he's looking to get right from. And hopefully, with all the people that have seen it, they've gotten it cured and he's ready to roll."
And so we wait.
Most of the Raiders starters didn't see time Saturday, but it was clear during joint practices with the Rams that Brown's absence severely limits the offense's potential. The Silver and Black need Brown to return post-haste.
For now, Gruden and the Raiders await the NFL's decision, one that could greatly impact the future of the organization if Brown sticks to the reported ultimatum he delivered.