The New England Patriots released Antonio Brown on Friday afternoon, ending his brief but turbulent tenure with the team as the N.F.L. was investigating him for multiple accusations of inappropriate sexual behavior, including rape.
“The New England Patriots are releasing Antonio Brown,” the team said in a statement. “We appreciate the hard work of many people over the past 11 days, but we feel that it is best to move in a different direction at this time.”
Cathy Lanier, the N.F.L.’s chief of security, met on Friday with an unnamed woman who said she endured unwelcome sexual advances from Brown two years ago. This week, the woman accused the wide receiver of sending her texts she found intimidating.
The meeting, according to Debra S. Katz, one of the woman’s lawyers, was arranged “to ensure that my client’s safety concerns are being addressed and to preserve electronic evidence.” N.F.L. officials also spoke with Katz and Lisa J. Banks, another lawyer for the woman, on Friday morning.
Katz called Brown’s departure from the Patriots “swift justice” and said her client’s accusations about Brown were “the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
The release capped a stormy period for one of the N.F.L.’s marquee franchises and for Brown. He was also accused of rape in a federal lawsuit filed last week by Britney Taylor, a former gymnast who met Brown while they attended Central Michigan and whom he later hired as a trainer. Taylor’s lawyers spoke with the N.F.L. after the suit was filed, and she met with the league this week.
Brown, who has denied the accusations from both women through his lawyer, Darren Heitner, posted about his release several times on social media, saying “Thank you for the opportunity” to the Patriots on Twitter.
Brown’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus, wrote on Twitter that it was “unfortunate things didn’t work out with the Patriots” but that “Antonio is healthy and is looking forward to his next opportunity in the N.F.L.”
Whether or not Brown gets another opportunity remains to be seen. In a statement Friday night, the N.F.L. said Brown would not be placed on the commissioner’s exempt list — which is effectively paid leave — as long as he remains a free agent.
The league said it would continue “vigorously and expeditiously” investigating the accusations against Brown. If he is signed by a team, the statement said, placement on the exempt list “may become appropriate at any time depending on the status of the investigation.”
Ahead of Brown’s release, Patriots Coach Bill Belichick abruptly ended his Friday news conference as reporters repeatedly asked questions about the receiver that the coach declined to answer. Belichick said he would answer only football questions and walked out of the room when asked again about Brown.
Brown’s tenure was just the latest trouble for the reigning Super Bowl champions. The club’s initial silence and resistance to sidelining Brown during the N.F.L. investigation drew immediate criticism from fans, who said the team had ignored serious accusations in pursuit of wins. That followed an off-season during which the team’s owner, Robert K. Kraft, faced charges of paying for sexual acts.
The Patriots’ success on the field is unmatched this century. They are a mainstay of the postseason and have won the Super Bowl six times. But the team has become almost as well-known for a series of unusual — and sometimes disturbing — issues and events of the past decade.
Whether it was a star tight end’s murder conviction followed by his suicide in prison, conspiracies to steal plays from opponents and to underinflate footballs to allow quarterback Tom Brady to throw better or Kraft’s entanglement in a sting investigation of a Florida salon, the Patriots have maintained a kind of dual existence as a model franchise for winning and a never-ending soap opera off the field.
Then came the decision to sign Brown.
The text messages, first reported by Sports Illustrated, were sent Wednesday night by a cellphone belonging to Brown, according to Katz. They went to a group of people that included Heitner, Brown’s lawyer, and the woman who has accused Brown of making inappropriate advances. The texts seemed to encourage a third party to research the woman’s history, and they included a photograph of her children.
Brown was instructed by the league and the Patriots to stop communicating with the woman, according to Katz and Banks.
“I can’t connect the dots,” Katz said in an interview, referring to the Patriots’ cutting Brown a day after her client’s complaint had been presented in a letter to the N.F.L. “But the N.F.L. this morning said they immediately contacted the Patriots after we talked last night and told us that neither Antonio Brown nor his associates would be contacting our client anymore.”
The woman, an artist, told Sports Illustrated this week that as she was working on a mural at Brown’s house in 2017, he approached her from behind while naked, holding a hand towel over his genitals. She was later fired, she said.
In the letter sent to the N.F.L. Thursday evening by Katz and Banks, the artist also said Brown had sex with another woman while she was in the same room, working on the mural.
Brown’s tumult has spanned three franchises and included problems large and small — but until now nothing as serious as accusations of rape and other sexual misconduct.
Brown, 31, was traded in the off-season to the Oakland Raiders from the Pittsburgh Steelers, where he spent nine years, seven of them as a Pro Bowler.
He then missed much of training camp with blistered feet, apparently caused by a cryogenic therapy chamber. Next came a dispute over his helmet, with Brown preferring a decade-old model that is no longer approved for use. He lost a grievance about the matter.
Unhappy, Brown was very active on social media throughout the Raiders’ preseason, posting a letter from the team about his fines for missing practice as well as a recording of a phone conversation with his coach.
An altercation with the Raiders’ general manager, Mike Mayock, and a plea from Brown for his release, helped end his brief time with Oakland. The Patriots swooped in to acquire him as a free agent within hours.
He reportedly signed a one-year, $15 million contract that had a $9 million signing bonus. Brown has not yet received the signing bonus and will not get it because of a clause in his contract, according to ESPN.
In his debut for New England last Sunday, Brown caught four passes, including one for a touchdown, in a 43-0 win over the Dolphins.
On Thursday, Nike said it had terminated its contract with Brown. He also lost a contract with Xenith, the helmet manufacturer.