Antonio Brown is back in the NFL and set to make his return in Week 9 as part of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and above all, he's grateful for the opportunity after a year spent off the field.
Brown spoke with reporters for the first time as a Buccaneer Wednesday, emphasizing his gratitude to play with the greatest quarterback in the game's history, Tom Brady, and a team filled with weapons that is in a great position to contend for a Super Bowl.
"I'm extremely grateful to be here with such a great organization," Brown said. "To be around some great players. First and foremost, being away from the game a year and a half, just to be able to be a part of the process and be out there with the guys today was surreal. It's something I don't take it for granted. Something I have a great appreciation for, a better perspective about, and a lot of gratification to do what I love. It's a blessing."
Brown's off-field transgressions were well-documented, resulting in an NFL investigation that produced an eight-game suspension for Brown. He served it while remaining a free agent until recently, when he was signed by Tampa Bay. Now that his suspension has been served, Brown will be able to take the field for the first time in more than a full calendar year.
Brown said his time away allowed him to review who he was as a person, a process that left him believing he's not "a different person, but I'm a better person."
"Well I took a lot of time off from the game to re-evaluate myself, to look within, to get a better perspective of myself," Brown explained, "working on myself within and without and being in this position, we followed the mission and getting back on track is what I'm here to do."
Brown said he spent a lot of the time away from the game with his family and took care of himself physically. He'll join a Bucs team led by Brady, who Brown said doesn't hold the receiver's past against him.
"Tom is my boy," Brown said. "One of the greatest leaders to be around. He's encouraging, always inspiring, brings out the best of people around him, he wants the best for everyone around him. He's the greatest quarterback of all time. Nothing that I've done in the past matters. He's always getting better day in and day out. I just learn a lot from him -- how he trains, how he takes care of himself professionally, his discipline, his work ethic, his approach -- he's been a great guy in my corner and one of my close friends."
Brown will also take the field under the direction of a familiar face in coach Bruce Arians, who served as offensive coordinator in Pittsburgh during Brown's first few years with the Steelers. The receiver believes it's a great pairing based on their past spent together.
"Well I don't know what was said or what coach said," Brown said. "I know we have a great relationship. As a kid coming to Pittsburgh 10 years ago, being 20 years old, 21, Bruce Arians was always an asset in my corner. A great coach that always brought out the best in me. He's always challenging what you say but only to make you a better person. I learned that from the start as a 20 year old kid. No matter what B.A. says, he always has good intentions for his player. I wouldn't be here without him today, so I'm grateful for him for the opportunity to have me here. I owe a lot of credit to B.A. Things said online, I don't know or pay a lot of attention to."
Defenses will want to pay attention to Brown, who will add another weapon to a loaded pass-catching corps. While catching touchdowns would be a great way to earn the backing of Bucs fans, Brown knows his past will travel with him. He'll have to prove to his new team that he's a changed man worthy of the second chance afforded to him.
"Hopefully I can change their perspectives," Brown said of those questioning whether he deserves to be back in the NFL. "Being here around great people, great organization, hopefully I can win them over with my actions of how I move forward and how I handle my business."