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Antonio Brown's Foot, Helmet Sagas Have NFL Wondering If Raiders Made a Mistake

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterAugust 9, 2019

Oakland Raiders wide receiver Antonio Brown during NFL football minicamp Tuesday, June 11, 2019, in Alameda, Calif. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
Eric Risberg/Associated Press

People were laughing at Antonio Brown over his cryotherapy mishap. Absolutely, unabashedly laughing.

But now, a few hours after B/R first published this as a story based on issues related to Brown's feet, concern over his status with the Raiders may be reaching full panic mode for some fans. All over an old helmet.

First came a report from Chase Williams of WPXI in Pittsburgh that Brown had gone "radio silent" with the Raiders. Then Michael Silver of NFL Media reported that Brown was angry over a league requirement to wear newer (and the NFL says safer) helmets. Silver also reported that Brown has been late to meetings and unfocused in them.

Then ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that Brown may not play again if he doesn't get to wear his old helmet.

It's unlikely that Brown would leave the NFL because he can't use a particular helmet. He'll adapt and play. Yet if all of this is happening now, even before a single game, then imagine what will happen once the year starts. This is why the Steelers traded Brown even though he is one of the best receivers of his generation.

So, as that total insanity plays out, we get back to frozen feet. Don't underestimate that part of the story.

Earlier this week, Pro Football Talk's (and former B/R colleague) Chris Simms reported that the Raiders' star receiver had suffered frostbite on his feet after using a cryotherapy machine, and the NFL reacted with…derision.

He should change his nickname from Mr. Big Chest to "Mr. Frozen Feet," one NFL scout joked to me.

Or how about this quip I also heard from someone in the league: Ben Roethlisberger went on his radio show and complained the cryogenic chamber ran the wrong route.

This is professional football. It can be cruel as hell. Few people are spared.

If Brown does, indeed, have frostbite, that's no laughing matter. It is a devastating injury that not only causes extensive pain but can also impact Brown's quality of life once football is over.

If you want a sense of just how bad it could be for Brown, consider what U.S. Olympic sprinter Justin Gatlin told TMZ Sports this week in recounting a similar injury he suffered in a cryogenic chamber in 2011.

"It was a disaster," Gatlin said. "I had, like, boils and blisters all over my ankles."

Gatlin said his feet were as wretched as the photos Brown posted of his own blistered feet.

Most critically for Brown and the Raiders, Gatlin said it took him months to recover as a medical professional had to pop different blisters daily.

Now, we don't know for certain if Brown has frostbite, since the Raiders have been publicly mum on the subject, only saying Brown is day-to-day. (Teams don't have to list injuries in the preseason, but that would be quite a report: Brown...doubtful...frostbite.) And just a few days ago, a source close to Brown told me he'd be OK in a few weeks. So, until Brown says specifically what happened, part of this is guesswork.

Dr. Mindy Mar, a spokesperson for the nonprofit Foundation for Chiropractic Progress and a sports medicine provider for several teams, including USA Cricket and America's Cup racing, said it's unlikely to be frostbite.

B/R Gridiron @brgridiron

.@AB84's feet 😬 https://t.co/10nEVqYup8

"[Frostbite] affects toes more and usually takes longer exposure to extreme cold temperatures than the two to three minutes people spend in a cryotherapy chamber," Mar said. "There is always a risk when exposed to extreme temperatures, especially if there were preexisting dermatology conditions and/or tissue injury at the time."

Still, Brown's injury, whatever it is, likely will require time to get better.

"Any tissue or burn damage needs about a week or two to naturally scab and heal," Mar said. "Any pressure or irritation to damaged tissue, even just walking on the soles of our feet, will slow down healing."

That last part about the slowing of healing due to walking on the feet is interesting. One thing we do know is Brown was limping on his feet while they were injured, as we saw on the first episode of HBO's Hard Knocks

It appears Brown won't be back on the field for a while, notwithstanding any continuing issues regarding his helmet. And all of this has some people around the league who thought the Raiders won (by a great margin) their trade with the Steelers for Brown rethinking their analysis. 

Let's go back in time for a moment. Brown was benched prior to the final game of last season after a confrontation with Roethlisberger. The Steelers later traded Brown, one of the best receivers of his generation, to the Raiders for a third- and fifth-round pick.

The Raiders signed Brown to a three-year, $50.1 million deal with $30.1 million guaranteed. 

Many around the NFL thought the Raiders made a great deal in acquiring Antonio Brown from the Steelers, but the injury to his feet that likely will keep him off the field for most of training camp has some rethinking how well the Raiders made out.
Many around the NFL thought the Raiders made a great deal in acquiring Antonio Brown from the Steelers, but the injury to his feet that likely will keep him off the field for most of training camp has some rethinking how well the Raiders made out.Ben Margot/Associated Press/Associated Press

That Oakland acquired a talent like Brown without giving up so much as a second-round pick was seen by a number of team personnel as a heist by the Raiders.

If Brown does end up missing significant time, however, Frostbitegate could change some of those opinions. If it's true that his unhappiness over helmet rules have been negatively affecting his time with the team, that will be cause for hindsight, too. 

The doubts teams have are manifested in their belief there will always be some type of drama with Brown. Is that fair? No. But that's what they think.

The Raiders didn't pay Brown $30 million guaranteed to miss practice time (and potentially games). One expects Brown will get over the helmet hurdle, but if the damage to his feet is bad (and it sure looks bad), he could have lingering physical issues for months.

And that's no joke.