Not long after a report surfaced indicating Antonio Brown acquired a fake COVID-19 vaccination card, the NFL is suspending the All-Pro talent. The league handed Brown a three-game suspension, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets.
The NFL also suspended Bucs safety Mike Edwards for COVID-19 protocol violations, per Rapoport. Brown denied using a fake vaccination card, but the NFL determined he did, in fact, do so. Neither player is appealing; both will be out until at least Week 16. The league did not fine the Buccaneers.
This further mars Brown’s first full Bucs season. Tampa Bay gave the All-Decade wideout an opportunity after a turbulent 2019 and an eight-game 2020 suspension, with Tom Brady leading the charge to bring the mercurial superstar into the fold. While Brown has been productive on the field, he has run into myriad issues that have kept him out of games this season. He missed a game while on the COVID-19 list, has missed several due to a troublesome ankle injury and will now be down until late December because of his second NFL ban in just more than a year.
When Brown landed on the COVID list in September, he was treated as a vaccinated player, returning after eight days. Unvaccinated players who test positive must quarantine for a minimum of 10 days. The wideout’s lawyer nevertheless released a statement Thursday indicating his client is vaccinated (via Rapoport, on Twitter). Making a fake vaccination card or using one is a felony. Brown’s 2020 suspension stemmed partially from felony burglary conveyance and misdemeanor battery charges.
Brown’s ban also surfaced after Bucs HC Bruce Arians said the team did its due diligence regarding Brown’s vaccination status, via ESPN.com’s Jenna Laine. Arians called the matter a non-story last month, and a Bucs statement read a team investigation did not reveal any irregularities (Twitter link). Arians said in early September the Bucs were a fully vaccinated team, but the November report contradicted that status. Given Arians’ initial hesitancy regarding a reunion with Brown last year, this is obviously not a good look for the 12th-year wide receiver or the team.
Brown, 33, was set to miss at least two more games because of the ankle injury he has battled for much of the season. The timing of this suspension does not stand to hurt the Bucs much, though it may affect Brown’s post-2021 future with the franchise. Brown re-signed with the Bucs on a one-year deal in May. The former Steelers dynamo was on pace for another 1,000-yard season, having caught 29 passes for 418 yards and two touchdowns in five games. But he will finish shy of that mark for a third straight year.
A former third-round Bucs pick, Edwards has worked as a backup safety for most of his career. The third-year cover man did post a rare two-pick-six game in Tampa Bay’s first meeting with Atlanta. He will miss the Bucs’ rematch with the Falcons, along with games against the Bills and Saints. Edwards has played in all 11 Bucs games this season.
The NFL also suspended free agent defensive back John Franklin III, who was with Tampa Bay this offseason. The Bucs waived him in August. Franklin also received a three-game ban.