Antonio Brown reported to Raiders training camp in a hot-air balloon. The team's film crew documented Brown's big ride through the Napa Valley, which came ready with a tagline befitting his transportation. "Float like a butterfly, sting like AB."
Spectacle fits Antonio Brown well. The eccentric superstar receiver enjoys production value, and his grand entrance became a hot topic during a July 26 press conference with Mike Mayock and Jon Gruden at the Napa Valley Marriott.
"I expect a lot more drama from number 84," Gruden said. "I really do."
Gruden was referring to the guy who, just five months earlier, forced his way out of Pittsburgh, said hell no to Buffalo and got a big, fat raise from the Raiders.
Brown leveraged Hall-of-Fame talent in forcing a trade to a place he liked, offering a pay rate he deemed appropriate, with a pseudo-threat succinctly expressed to ESPN's Jeff Darlington.
"If they want me to play, they're gonna play by my rules," Brown said in an interview released on March 2. "If not, I don't need to play."
That hard line worked perfectly this spring. He's apparently using it again this summer.
ESPN's Adam Schefter reported Friday afternoon that he told the Raiders he will not play football again unless he's allowed to wear a helmet the NFL has now deemed illegal.
He has filed a grievance that was heard by the NFL on Friday, per Yahoo!, though the league has not ruled on it.
What happens if the NFL rules against Brown wearing a no-longer-certified helmet deemed outdated and unsafe? Will he take his gold-jacket skills and go home? Will he take his $50 million contract, with nearly $30 million guaranteed, and light it on fire over a helmet?
Gruden may have expected more Antonio Brown drama. He certainly wasn't ready for all this.
When he made a no-so-bold prediction, Gruden knew Brown would hit the non-football injury list for peeling, infected feet we can't un-see. He knew about Brown's helmet gripes and comically haphazard attempts to use his preferred model, which were expertly chronicled by intrepid NFL Network reporter Mike Silver in an epic Twitter thread Friday afternoon.
Threatening to quit over equipment, and staying away from training camp in part to voice displeasure with new helmet rules, is a headache immune to aspirin.
It can't be what Gruden needs or wants while trying to fortify an improved, yet still deficient Raiders roster that must play together to surpass relatively low expectations.
The NFL generally operates on a talent-tolerance scale. The better a player you are, the more you can get away with.
There's little debate that Brown's the very best, at worst ranking high among other elites. Teams are willing to handle a great deal for dynamic, game-changing production.
The Raiders didn't mind his let-everybody-in social media presence. They permitted his personal trainer to roam the sidelines during camp. They allowed his masseuse in to watch at least one OTA practice. Even on the day he practiced despite his foot issues, Brown had his work cut short as planned and was seen playing with his children while practice was going on.
All that was fine because, when it comes time to work, Brown is awesome. He elevates those around him and constantly pushed for better. He never downshifts on the practice field, and has a track record of doing the same in games. He works out hard away from the team, and put serious effort into building chemistry with quarterback Derek Carr this offseason.
Brown isn't doing any of those positive things right now. He can't practice with foot issues. He can't set a new standard for accountability around camp, as he promised in his introductory press conference, if he isn't here while fighting to wear the helmet he wants.
You can't blame him for trying, though, and resorting to threats. He used it this offseason, and got out of Pittsburgh and got a raise. Positive results often induce repeat behaviors.
This helmet situation might not be so easily fought and won, considering player safety's involved and individual teams have been charged with policing the rules.
However, it pans out, Brown has now become a training-camp distraction and "Hard Knocks" will detail all of it in future episodes if the Raiders allow it into the final cut.
It must also be noted that this could be a soap-opera turn with a happy ending, if Brown's back healthy and producing come the regular season opener.
That ultimately remains uncertain, but we can say for sure that Brown stolen focus from Raiders training camp and created tons of drama. Even Gruden may have underestimated exactly how much.