The Steelers finally unloaded Antonio Brown, the mercurial wide receiver and future Hall of Famer who made it quite clear that he wanted out of Pittsburgh because of differences with Ben Roethlisberger and Mike Tomlin. Brown, who will be 31 this summer and remains one of the league’s best pass catchers, is now an Oakland Raider, which means he goes from a perennial Super Bowl contender to a team won four games in 2018, six the year before, and has exactly one winning season since 2003.
Last week at the NFL combine, Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert maintained that the team would not give Brown away, and if they didn’t feel the compensation was fair, they would consider bringing the wide receiver back in 2019. There were reports that Pittsburgh was looking for a first-round pick, or at least first-round value, and when that didn’t materialize — in part because Brown reportedly nixed a trade to Buffalo that could have involved the Bills‘ No. 9 overall pick — they were left with something much less than that: Shipping Brown out west for Oakland’s third and fifth-rounders in 2019.
So who won the trade? Let’s take a look.
Oakland Raiders: A
- Antonio Brown
The Raiders desperately need a playmaker and Brown is exactly that. Less than a year ago Oakland got burned on the Martavis Bryant deal. They gave up a third-round pick last April to get the explosive wide receiver from Pittsburgh. Bryant was released before the 2018 season, re-signed 10 days later, and appeared in eight games with 19 catches, 266 yards and no touchdowns. By December, the league suspended him indefinitely. This time, they get Brown, who has six straight 100-catch, 1,200-yard seasons in which he hauled in 67 touchdowns.
A season ago, tight end — and soon-to-be free agent — Jared Cook (68 catches, 896 yards, 6 TDs) was the Raiders’ most productive pass catcher followed by running back Jalen Richard (68 catches, 607 yards, 0 TDs). Thirty-three year-old Jordy Nelson was next (63 catches, 739 yards, 3 TDs). Brown changes everything because he will require double-teams, and in the process open up the rest of the offense. There’s also thIs:
And in case there’s any confusion, Gruden has long been a huge fan of Brown.
“He can run every route you dream up,” Gruden said of Brown back on Dec. 5. “I say that about other receivers, but he can run double move. He can run by you. He can run crossing routes. He’s very good after the catch. What’s the greatest thing about this man, I’ve told all of our receivers, if you get a chance to watch him practice, you’ll see what unlocks the greatness in him.
“He’s the hardest-working man, I think, in football,” Gruden continued. “Hardest-working player I’ve ever seen practice. I’ve seen Jerry Rice. I’ve seen a lot of good ones. But I put Antonio Brown at the top. If there are any young wideouts out there, I’d go watch him practice. You figure out yourself why he’s such a good player.”
The Raiders still have picks No. 4, 24, 27 and 35 and can address their myriad other needs — edge rusher, linebacker, cornerback, tight end, and even maybe another wide receiver. Whether Gruden can make it all work — starting with keeping Brown happy — is another matter, but right now, Oakland has to be ecstatic.
Pittsburgh Steelers: D
- Pick No. 66 (3rd round)
- Pick No. 142 (5th round)
Here’s Colbert at the combine last week when asked about Brown.
“We will only make a trade if it benefits the Pittsburgh Steelers,” he told reporters. “He knows that, his representation knows that and we’re willing to take a look. …
“Anything we do has to benefit us. If it doesn’t, then we won’t [make a trade],” Colbert continued. “If you lose a player like that, if you decide to take a player like that off your team, you best have the compensation that’ll justify removing that player and that would be significant compensation in the form of a draft pick or picks or a player and picks, just so you can try and balance off the great loss that will happen if you lose a player like that.”
Any observer — neutral or biased — would agree that a third- and fifth-rounder don’t compensate for the loss of Brown’s production. Brown had the Steelers over a barrel and even though, according to CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora, the Eagles and Redskins were also interested in acquiring Brown after the Bills deal fell through, only Oakland was willing to give him a new contract. Which brings us to the biggest winner of all …
Antonio Brown: A+
Brown wanted out of Pittsburgh: check
Brown reportedly didn’t want to go to Buffalo, where wide receivers go to die: check
Brown wanted a new deal, which complicated the Steelers’ ability to move him: check
Specifically, the Steelers owed Brown nothing in guarantees over the next three years. The Raiders will guarantee Brown $30 million, and the total amount he was due to earn through 2021 increases from $38.9 million to $50.1 million, according to Pro Football Talk. That works out to $19.8 million annually, on average, which makes Brown the league’s highest-paid receiver. And if Brown hits all his incentives, he’ll earn an additional $15.2 million over the next three years, bringing his average annual salary to $20.8 million.
For all the talk that only franchise quarterbacks have leverage in today’s NFL, Brown disproved that notion in spectacular fashion.
And there’s also this, Brown’s parting gift to the team that drafted him: