METAIRIE, LA – Prolific but embattled free-agent receiver Antonio Brown got his chance to show the New Orleans Saints how he could help them in the playoffs.
Whether Brown winds up catching passes from record-setting quarterback Drew Brees during a potential Super Bowl run remains to be seen. And the NFL could have a say in the matter — if the Saints decide to sign him.
While Saints coach Sean Payton did not rule out signing Brown, he said there were no immediate plans to do so after including the four-time All-Pro in a workout with six receivers on Friday.
“Not now,” Payton said, adding that coaches and the front office are "mainly doing our due diligence on all of those players. Obviously there’s a little bit more attention drawn to him because of his career. But right now it was more or less us having a chance to get to know these guys and seeing what kind of shape they’re all in.”
Brown's agent, Drew Rosenhaus, told The Associated Press that Brown's "visit with the Saints went very well and we will continue discussions with them.''
Brown also could be seen smiling widely in a photo, posted on social media, with New Orleans Pelicans rookie Zion Williamson. The Saints and NBA's Pelicans are both owned by Gayle Benson and their practice headquarters are on the same campus. Saints receiver Ted Ginn Jr. said he was among Saints players who met Brown as well.
Brown has been out of the NFL since the New England Patriots cut him Sept. 20 amid multiple sexual misconduct allegations which have spawned an ongoing league investigation of the receiver.
Payton had indicated on multiple occasions earlier this season that the Saints were not interested in signing Brown.
“I probably wasn’t telling you the truth a few months ago," Payton said. “We’re looking closely all the time at who are the players available, how can they help us, especially as we get ready here for this postseason?”
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the league had no comment on the Saints' decision to work out Brown.
During NFL meetings earlier this month, Commissioner Roger Goodell said he had not yet met with Brown and that the investigation was not complete. Goodell further specified that league investigators met with Brown but “have more work to do.”
When Brown was released by the Patriots, he was not placed on the commissioner's exempt list, which would prevent other teams from signing him. However, the NFL released a statement explaining that, "As long as Mr. Brown is a free agent, placement on the Commissioner’s exempt list is not appropriate. If he is signed by a club, such placement may become appropriate at any time, depending on the status of the investigation. Upon the conclusion of the investigation, he may also be subject to discipline if the investigation finds that he has violated the law or league policies.”
Payton said after the workout he remained uncertain whether Brown would ultimately be eligible to play in the postseason.
"That’s the information that we’ve got to get from the league if we were to go down that road and we don’t have that yet,” Payton said.
Brown, who caught 837 passes during nine seasons with Pittsburgh, has been dumped by three teams since the end of last season. He was benched by the Steelers after he was a no-show in the days leading up to the club's season finale.
The Steelers traded him to Oakland, which signed him to a contract that would have paid him up to $50 million over the next three seasons, only to release him before he'd played a game.
The Patriots quickly moved to bring in Brown, giving him a one-year deal that would have guaranteed him $9 million and paid him up to $15 million this season. He played in one game, catching a touchdown pass at Miami in Week 2, before New England released him.
Saints players who spoke after Friday's practice sounded enthusiastic about the prospects of adding a receiver as talented as Brown. They expressed confidence in the club's ability to vet whether a player's previous pattern of mercurial behavior or off-the-field trouble would be an unwanted disruption.
“Our front office knows what it’s doing,” linebacker and defensive captain Demario Davis. “They’ve done a good job in building a very strong team with a strong culture. We’ve got a very strong locker room.”
Saints receiver Ted Ginn Jr. said that adding Brown to a receiver corps that already includes Michael Thomas — who leads the NFL with a single-season record 145 catches for 1,688 yards — would be a “great situation.”
Brown has been "a top guy in this league," Ginn said. "His attitude and the way he approaches the game and the way he plays the game, he’s kind of like, amazing.”
While simply bringing in Brown for a workout could affect public perceptions of any NFL club, Payton assured that the Saints are “doing our homework.”
“Part of that is credibility that we've already established,” Payton said. “There would be a number of players that we've signed or drafted over the years past; some have worked out, some that haven't. And yet, I've never met him before, so it was a chance to sit down and visit with him.”