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Team-less Brown receives suspension

The Associated Press

NEW YORK — The NFL suspended wide receiver Antonio Brown for the first eight regular-season games of the 2020 season.

Brown, who does not have a contract with any team, was suspended Friday under the league’s personal conduct policy.

Brown, who played one game last season for the Patriots before being released, can be signed by any team and would be eligible to participate in all of his club’s preseason activities. The suspension would take effect when teams make their final cuts on Sept. 5.

As part of the discipline, Brown was directed to continue his program of counseling and treatment. He also was advised that any future violation of the personal conduct policy will “likely result in more significant discipline.”

Brown’s agent Ed Wasielewski wrote in a statement posted on Twitter that the wide receiver will not appeal the suspension.

“He is excited to resume his outstanding football career and is looking forward to playing in the 2020 season,” Wasielewski said.

Brown pleaded no contest on June 12 to charges related to a fight with a moving truck driver outside his South Florida home earlier this year. As part of the deal with Broward County prosecutors, Brown pleaded no contest to burglary with battery, burglary of an unoccupied conveyance and criminal mischief.

The wide receiver must serve two years of probation, undergo a psychological evaluation and follow-up treatment, attend an anger management course, perform 100 hours of community service and follow a stay-away order from the truck driver and the moving company owner. Because the the judge in the case withheld adjudication, Brown won’t receive a criminal conviction on his record if he successfully completes his probation.

The 32-year-old Brown established himself as one of the NFL’s top wide receivers during his nine seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers, being named to the All-Pro team four times and selected for seven Pro Bowls.

He was traded to Oakland last year, but never played in a regular-season game for the Raiders after he was released following several off-field incidents.

New England signed him in September, but released him a few weeks later after a second woman in 10 days accused him of sexual misconduct.

Brown has caught 841 passes for 11,236 yards and 75 touchdowns in parts of 10 NFL seasons.

MNF booth is set

Steve Levy, Brian Griese and Louis Riddick will be the new announce team for ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” according to a person familiar with the decision.

The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity Friday because the network has not announced its decision. ESPN biographer Jim Miller was the first to report on the new booth.

The trio has familiarity working together. They called the late game in last season’s Week 1 doubleheader between Denver and Oakland.

The MNF booth has had frequent changes since Mike Tirico departed for NBC in 2016. Tirico was the play-by-play voice for 10 seasons (2006-15) and teamed with Jon Gruden for the last seven. Sean McDonough took over for Tirico for 2016 and ’17 and worked with Gruden.

After Gruden left to take over as Raiders coach and McDonough sought to move back to college football, ESPN went with the three-man booth of Joe Tessitore, Jason Witten and Booger McFarland in 2018. Witten struggled as an analyst and decided to return to the playing field last year.

While ratings had increased the past two seasons, the announcing was widely criticized. ESPN is hoping this booth has more staying power.

Levy has been a “SportsCenter” anchor for most of his 27 years at the network, but returned to announcing games in 2016. He has teamed with Griese on college football the past four seasons. They have also called Denver Broncos preseason contests.

Griese joined ESPN in 2009 following an 11-year NFL career. He also was an analyst on radio for the Broncos for two seasons as well as working with Beth Mowens on an MNF game in 2018.

Riddick has been an integral part of ESPN’s NFL studio shows, including Monday Night halftime and postgame, but has long wanted to get his shot at being in the booth. He expanded his repertoire last year when he was the analyst for Friday night college football games.

Lisa Salters is expected to return as the sideline reporter and John Parry as the rules analyst.

With NFL preseason games being canceled, the trio’s debut will likely be the Tennessee Titans-Denver Broncos game on Sept. 14, which will be the second game of the doubleheader. Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit are expected to call the Pittsburgh Steelers-New York Giants game and could be in the mix for more MNF games if the college football season is scrapped.

New England Patriots

BOSTON — Like all NFL teams, the Patriots face a variety of unknowns heading into a 2020 season in the midst of the ongoing pandemic.

So it’s no surprise Bill Belichick is being coy about his expectations for the quarterback position as his team prepares for the start of training camp.

Assuming he’s healthy coming off foot surgery in December, free agent pickup and 2015 MVP Cam Newton would seem the front-runner to win the job over second-year Jarrett Stidham and veteran backup Brian Hoyer as they vie to succeed Tom Brady following his departure to Tampa Bay.

Belichick said the evaluation process hasn’t started with no work on the field yet as 80 players began arriving at the team facility this week.

“That spot’s the same as all the others on the team,” Belichick said Friday during a conference call with reporters. “We’ve got a long way to go. I can’t control how players perform. That’s up to them. We’ll give everybody an opportunity and we’ll see what happens.”

Newton was released in March by Carolina, the team he’d been with since being selected as the top draft pick in 2011. His best season was 2015 when he led the Panthers to a 15-1 record in the regular season and an NFC championship. He threw for 3,837 yards and combined for 35 touchdowns en route to earning league MVP honors.

But the foot injury limited him to two games in 2019. That was after a shoulder injury also severely hampered him in 2018.

During a roundtable discussion earlier this month with Odell Beckham Jr., Todd Gurley and Victor Cruz, Newton said that the specter of trying to replace Brady was “the elephant in the room” surrounding his signing. He also acknowledged wondering how “me and Belichick are going to mesh?”

He’s attempted to answer by trying to begin the jelling process with existing Patriots players prior to reporting to camp.

Newton has been all over social media in recent weeks while working out with Patriots receivers. A photo posted Friday on Julian Edelman’s Instagram page showed Edelman and Newton posing with Patriots receivers Jakobi Meyers, Damiere Byrd, N’Keal Harry and Gunner Olszewski after a workout session.

It’s a sign of the kind of desire Newton said he has inside to prove himself to teams that passed on him in free agency.

“You’re getting a dog. You’re getting one of these ticked-off dogs, too,” he said during the roundtable.

Belichick is choosing to start training camp with 80 players instead of 90. Starting with 90 would mean they’d have to break into two practice groups. By staying at 80 he said he can keep everyone together. All teams must cut down to 80 players by Aug. 16.

“We felt like this was the best option for our team, so that’s why we did it,” Belichick said.

The roster has already taken a hit after six players, including starting linebacker Dont’a Hightower, safety Patrick Chung and tackle Marcus Cannon, opted out of playing the season over concerns about COVID-19. Running back Brandon Bolden, fullback Danny Vitale and offensive lineman Najee Toran also elected to skip the season.

Belichick declined to say if any players had tested positive for coronavirus since they began reporting to camp. But he said the team will adjust as necessary, adding he respects the players who have already decided not to play,

“Each one of us is unique and we all have different lives, situations, families, environments,” he said. “So there’s no two situations that are the same. Everybody will have to make their own decision on that.”

Belichick said he is unsure whether more players will exercise that option before training camp officially opens with an acclimation period next week.

“I have no way (of knowing). No crystal ball. It’s kind of cloudy right now,” he said.

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