Antonio Brown is returning to professional football, but not to the NFL.
Brown is set to play for the National Arena League’s Albany Empire. It will mark the first time he has played a professional game since his unceremonious exit from the Buccaneers, during which he stormed off the field mid-game and was released immediately afterward.
Some may be wondering why Brown is so willing to play in the NAL given that it is a big step down in competition from the NFL. The simple answer is that his majority ownership of the team has led him to this decision after a disastrous start to the team’s 2023 campaign.
Here’s what to know about Brown’s decision to play for Albany and the trouble that he has caused the Empire since joining the team’s ownership group in March.
MORE: Antonio Brown tweets picture of himself in Ravens jersey
What is the Albany Empire?
The Albany Empire is an arena football team that is currently competing in the National Arena League (NAL). They are one of seven teams in the league, which was founded in 2016.
The Albany franchise was founded in 2020 and the team is playing its third arena-league season. That said, the Empire share a name, logo and color scheme with an Arena Football League team that played games in 2018 and 2019 before the AFL folded. So, the brand has been around for much longer.
The modern Empire franchise has been one of the NAL’s most successful to date. They have won each of the last two NAL championship games and are one of two teams with multiple titles to their name. The other is the Jacksonville Sharks.
Overall, the Empire entered 2023 with a regular-season record of 15-5 and an undefeated 4-0 postseason record. They haven’t fared as well in 2023, posting a 1-4 record in their first five games.
That is thanks, in part, to some of the turmoil caused by the team’s association with Antonio Brown.
Why is Antonio Brown playing for the Albany Empire?
Brown is playing for the Albany Empire for one simple reason. He is the team’s majority owner.
Brown first joined the ownership group of the Empire in March of 2023. He purchased 47.5 percent of the team from primary owner Mike Kwarta before buying the remaining 47.5 percent of Kwarta’s 95 percent stake in the company for just $1, per the Times Union.
Your first look at Antonio Brown in an Albany Empire practice uniform. Brown has yet to participate in practice, which started at 9 AM. pic.twitter.com/rYorgc2hlW
— Griffin Haas (@Griffin__Haas) May 25, 2023
Originally, Brown had said that he wasn’t planning to play for the team, as he explained at an introductory news conference.
“I did everything as far as playing in the career of football,” he explained. “I won’t retire because I still got the game, but just working on other things.”
Ultimately, he changed his mind midway through the season after a series of decisions by him plunged the team into chaos.
MORE: How Antonio Brown “came in and killed” Albany Empire franchise
Who is Antonio Brown’s dad?
The other part of the equation in buying the Empire is that the younger Brown has a connection to the franchise. His father is “Touchdown” Eddie Brown.
The elder Brown was an arena football star for the Albany Firebirds and played six seasons for the team from 1994 to 1999. He played in one game for the franchise in the 2000 season before retiring due to a custody battle regarding his daughter.
Brown came out of retirement in 2001 after the Firebirds moved to Indiana and played three more seasons before retiring in 2004 after the team released him. He finished his career having caught 950 passes for 12,736 yards and a whopping 303 touchdowns. He was thrice named to the All-Arena first team and won the league MVP in his rookie season of 1994.
He is considered to be the greatest player in the history of arena football.
The elder Brown didn’t have too much of a relationship with his son during his son’s younger days, but they have since rekindled a solid father-son bond.
“Time always heals wounds,” Eddie told ESPN about the progress in their relationship when the duo attended Eddie’s jersey retirement in 2018. “I think he is starting to understand a lot more things but where he’s at now mentally, he feels there is no other bigger support system than having his dad by his side. And I’m honored. It’s about building that family tradition of doing things together.”
And that’s just what the two are doing with the Empire. After Antonio purchased a share in the team, Eddie was named vice president of operations, so the two will continue to work in tandem to run the organization, though it seems like the younger Brown will have more say in what is done given his financial stake in the team.
MORE: Antonio Brown’s timeline of trouble, from Steelers trade to Buccaneers release
Antonio Brown net worth, career earnings
According to Celebrity Net Worth, Brown has a net worth of $20 million. That stems largely from the money he earned playing in the NFL, as well as some endorsement deals that he possessed before the tumultuous ending to his tenure with the Raiders and Patriots.
During his time in the NFL, Brown had career earnings of $80.74 million, per Spotrac.com. That is modest compared to some of the other top receivers in the NFL for two reasons.
First, Brown was signed to his contracts right before the receiver boom in the NFL. He signed a four-year, $68 million deal with the Steelers in 2017 and a three-year, $50.13 million deal with the Raiders in 2019, just a few years before the $20 million per year price tag became the norm for receivers.
Also, Brown didn’t see the entirety of those earnings because he was released before the end of three of his last four contracts. That included the Raiders cutting him after just a few months with the team, Brown lasting under two weeks with the Patriots and his being released by the Buccaneers after his on-field outburst on the sidelines late in the 2021 season.
Brown still earned more than enough money to be comfortable during his NFL days and he should have enough to keep the Empire running for a bit — provided that he can stay out of his own way. And for now, he will save himself a bit of money by opening up a roster spot for himself, as he will receive a game check that would otherwise go to another player.
MORE: Revisiting what happened to Antonio Brown at end of NFL career
Albany Empire roster
Speaking of the Empire roster, Brown’s name is easily the most recognizable on the team. Below is a look at the other players that Albany currently employs, as listed by the team’s official website.
Note: Brown isn’t listed on the team’s website as of this writing, but Albany has announced that he will play. As such, it can be presumed that adding him to the roster is just a formality.
|—||Antonio Brown||WR||5-10||185||Central Michigan|
|2||Nikolas Brassell||WR/DB||6-1||210||Ole Miss|
|3||Jonathan Bane||QB||6-4||210||Dakota Weslyan|
|4||Kevin Hurley||WR||6-2||180||McMurray University|
|6||Fabian Guerra||WR||6-0||190||Fairmont State|
|7||Farrean Toney||WR||5-10||185||Mississippi Valley State|
|8||Daquan Patten||WR/DB||5-7||175||West Carolina|
|12||Daniel Justino||K||5-8||170||Northwestern State|
|19||Maurice Leggett||DB||6-0||215||Valdosta State|
|24||Brian Foy Jr.||WR/DB||6-1||185||Grand Rapids CC|
|34||Malcolm Mccoy||FB/LB||6-0||230||Bowie State University|
|44||Ricky Wyatt||FB/LB||6-0||230||Central Arkansas|
|50||Brandon Thorpe||OL/DL||6-4||308||Texas Tech/Virginia Union|
|53||Dante Reynolds||OL/DL||6-1||300||Delaware Valley State|
|54||Andre Revere Sr.||OL/DL||6-0||285||Tuskegee University|
|54||Jadavien Williams||OL/DL||6-2||265||Valdosta State|
|65||Isaiah Hardy||OL||6-6||335||West Virginia|
|76||Noland Bryant||OL/DL||6-7||330||Edward Waters|
|—||Kevin Felder||WR||5-7||155||University of Pikeville|
|—||Jeremiah Zene Jr.||FB/DL||6-7||345||Concordia College|
Antonio Brown’s Albany Empire ownership timeline
Just how bad have things gotten for Brown and the Empire? Well, Brown has caused problems for the team, as he has gone through three coaches, released eight players and has had trouble paying members of the team throughout the season.
As such, Albany is sitting at 1-4 through five games, tied for last place with the West Texas Warbirds. This comes after the Empire won back-to-back NAL titles and the AFL title in 2019.
Below is a rundown of the destruction caused by Brown in his three-month stint with the team:
March 2: Brown first announces his intention to become part owner of the Empire. He bought an undisclosed amount of the team from majority owner Mike Kwarta, who said that the two would be equal partners.
“It means everything to be back here in the community where I grew up as a kid,” Brown told the Times Union when joining the team. “It’s about keeping Albany football, sustainability, being here forever, and offering the community, the kids, the players, a great opportunity to be successful.”
Brown originally said as part of that news conference that he would not be playing for the Empire. He just wanted to help the players and the team succeed.
“I just want to be here hands-on, help the players be successful on and off the field, and just be an advocate here in the community to bring it out. If that’s going out in the community, getting people to the game, getting kids to come out here, events in the stadium, so whatever it takes to help us be our best selves and hoist a trophy,” Brown said.
April 6: Ten days before the NAL season began, the Empire decided to fire coach Tom Menas despite the fact that he had coached them to two NAL titles in the last two seasons. Kwarta said at the time that the team was looking to go in a different direction.
That said, the firing came as a surprise to Menas, who was disappointed in the decision.
“I’m a little heartbroken because I really thought that I could lead this team to a three-peat this year,” Menas told WNYT.
April 15: Before the first game of the Empire’s season, Brown claimed that he was the full owner of the team. Kwarta disputed that, claiming that each party owned 47.5 percent of the team while Charlotte and Steve Von Schiller owned the remaining 5 percent of the squad.
The dispute was hardly a big issue, and it was resolved a few days later.
April 16: The Empire win their first game of the 2023 season 70-33 over the Orlando Predators under the guide of interim coach Damon Ware, who had previously been the team’s offensive coordinator.
However, it wasn’t all good news for Brown. He had to be ushered off the field by security after he was on it signing autographs at some point during the event. He refused to leave for some time before eventually following the order.
Still I maintained a level of professionalism positivity while dealing with this security today ! First Game AS AN Owner #StayEncouraged pic.twitter.com/eU724PbHR6
— AB (@AB84) April 18, 2023
April 19: Kwarta officially sells his remaining 47.5 percent stake in the Empire to Brown for $1. It’s unclear whether Kwarta wanted to get out from under the investment given that it wasn’t profitable or if Brown strong-armed him out of the ownership group.
Either way, Brown came to own 95 percent of the team after that transaction. That made him the team’s majority owner.
April 21: Off-the-field issues continued to find Brown, who became subject to an arrest warrant after failing to pay child support to his ex-girlfriend, Wiltrice Jackson, per TMZ. Brown posted pictures of him paying off his debt — reported to be at least $30,000 — on Instagram shortly after news of the warrant became public.
Antonio Brown appears to have paid the $30K in child support payment that he owed to his ex 👀 pic.twitter.com/n12yxbVaPA
— Blaze Music (@blazemusicmedia) April 22, 2023
April 30: This is when the real trouble begins for Brown. He was behind the decision to fire the team’s interim coach, Damon Ware, after a 1-2 start to the season. Ware said that Brown “killed the franchise” and made violent threats against him when he confronted Brown about players not being paid.
The Times Union reported that players are typically paid on Friday, but members of the team had not received their direct deposits that week. Acting team president Alberony Denis said there was a problem with the team’s payroll processor related to previous ownership, but it has been resolved.
Even so, the Empire released eight players for complaining about the payment issues in addition to firing Ware. Starting quarterback Sam Castronova was among those eight, and he was among the team’s seven players who were deliberately locked out of their Albany hotel rooms by Brown after returning from a team road trip. Ware faced the same fate.
Ware was ultimately happy to leave his post, citing the difficulties of working with Brown on his way out the door.
“It’s a happy day for me to be out of this crazy situation,” Ware told TMZ. “Goodbye, good riddance.”
Meanwhile, Brown tweeted an indication that he was looking for some new players to join the Empire after the wild weekend.
Who’s the best players in the country who want to play for @thealbanyempir opportunities knocking 3P at Steak
— AB (@AB84) May 1, 2023
May 4: Albany was able to replace Ware with a familiar face, bringing back Tom Menas as head coach less than a month after initially firing him.
To his credit, Menas did not hold a grudge despite the way his initial exit was handled.
“The hard feelings that I have or had weren’t ever earmarked at anybody. They were earmarked at the situation,” Menas told NewsChannel 13’s Rodger Wyland. “I think one of the worst things we can do as humans is waste energy on things behind us.”
There had been some discussion that Menas could bring Ware back as the team’s offensive coordinator, but he headed to Orlando instead.
May 18: Brown announces that he will play for the Empire. He tells Wyland that he is planning to play as soon as May 27 and that the primary reason for his suiting up is to see whether that attracts more fans.
Albany Empire Owner Antonio Brown told me he is going to suit up and play for the Empire as soon as their next home game May 27th at MVP Arena. Brown is a 7 time NFL Pro-Bowler WR who played 10 years with the Steelers. @WNYT @albanyempire
— Rodger Wyland (@RodgerWyland) May 17, 2023
Before Brown’s decision to play, Albany had been averaging an attendance of about 2,500 per game.
May 21: The Empire once again made a change at the head coaching position, this time after a 79-34 loss to the Jacksonville Sharks, Albany’s fourth in a row. Tom Menas resigned from his post, effectively citing irreconcilable differences between him and Brown as the main reason for him leaving the team.
“I have come to realize that my vision doesn’t match our ownership’s vision, and I need to do the right thing and step aside to allow the Albany Empire to find a head coach that matches their vision,” Menas said in a statement, per the Times Union.
Menas’ resignation came not only after the loss, but after Brown had tweeted criticism of the players and coaches throughout it. That included a tweet that implied that the team would be getting a new coach after the contest.
Below is a sampling of his tweets about Albany’s performance.
Hard to win a game when to many complain coaches not talking to
All the players takes real unity get Ws
— AB (@AB84) May 21, 2023
New coach new trainer new players Who wanna Win?????
— AB (@AB84) May 21, 2023
I’ll be sure give you all
Something better next week @thealbanyempir
— AB (@AB84) May 21, 2023
— AB (@AB84) May 21, 2023
— AB (@AB84) May 21, 2023
May 22: The Empire hire Pete Porcelli as their new head coach. Porcelli played for the Albany Firebirds in the mid-90s alongside Brown’s father. That made him a natural fit for the role.
“I want to be just a calming presence in terms of trying to get the guys better each and every day,” Porcelli told the Times Union.
That said, the job was first offered by Brown to La Salle head coach John Audino. He declined the offer to become the team’s third head coach of the season.
“I’m grateful that somebody like Antonio Brown could think that I could help the team and help the franchise and help the city,” Audino said. “It’s just not the right time.”
So, it will be on Porcelli to turn around Albany’s season. The team is 1-4 and tied for last place in the NAL.