I’ll take a crack at Antonio Brown’s landing spot here, keeping a few things in mind: He’s significantly hurt his market value (no kidding) since going AWOL from the Steelers the last week of the regular season and since going all scorched-earth on the Steelers in the last six weeks. The fact that GM Kevin Colbert would say he’s had three teams reach out about trading for the first player in history to catch 100 balls six years in a row tells you the market on Brown will be limited. (Three? If Brown didn’t have his baggage, it’d be 13.) But here’s my top choices for his smartest landing spot:
• Carolina. New owner David Tepper, a Pittsburgh guy, went to Pitt and then Carnegie Mellon, and donated $55 million to CMU, which now has a Tepper School of Business in his honor. He bought a 5 percent stake in the Steelers in 2009, preceding his purchase of the Panthers last year. So he’ll know the holes in Brown’s persona, but he’ll also know the difference Brown could make in a passing game that needs a downfield threat. Brown has averaged 114 catches and 1,524 yards a year for the past six years with the deep-armed Ben Roethlisberger, and he’ll be motivated to keep the distractions to a minimum so he can earn a new deal. Tepper is motivated to inject new life into a 24-25 team since Carolina’s Super Bowl appearance three years ago. Though GM Marty Hurney is a conservative type by nature, I think he could be convinced to take a shot on this get-rich-quick scheme. It’d thrill Cam Newton too.
• Washington. A smart guy in the league told me the other day: “Look for the desperate teams with Brown.” What team is more desperate than Washington, which is hemorrhaging fans, has no idea who the 2019 quarterback will be, has no idea who the 2020 coach will be, hasn’t won a playoff game in 14 years, and has an embattled owner searching for anything that will get his team out of the muck and mire of mediocrity? This also fits the Pittsburgh plan of wanting to send Brown out of the AFC. The problem, obviously, would be finding a quarterback to get the ball to Brown. But Washington’s a team that loves to win the offseason and hasn’t done so in a while. I’d be surprised if Bruce Allen and Kevin Colbert don’t talk about Brown.
• Tampa Bay. Dot-connecting. DeSean Jackson wants a new start out of Tampa. The new coach of the Bucs, Bruce Arians, was the Steelers’ play-caller in 2011, when Brown had his breakout NFL season. Arians wants to throw the ball deep more than any head coach in football. Makes sense to me.
• New York Jets. Makes a ton of sense, because the Jets aren’t averse to spending big in free agency so why would they be averse to making a big deal? I’ve maintained that Robby Anderson and a fairly high pick would be a fair trade, because it would rid the Steelers of the Brown headache and, though the Jets and Steelers meet this fall in New Jersey, wouldn’t mean the Steelers would be dealing him to anything but an occasional on-field rival. This is the franchise where Santonio Holmes went to disappear nine years ago. Anderson and JuJu Smith-Schuster would be a formidable receiver duo for the next few years too.
• Oakland. The Raiders have five first-round picks in the next two drafts (their own two, Chicago’s in 2019 and 2020, and the Cowboys’ this year), and Jon Gruden is a trading machine. Though it’s an AFC team, they don’t play each other till at least 2020.
• The others. I don’t see San Francisco, unless Jerry Rice gets hired as GM … Arizona could send the first pick in the second round this year, straight up, which seems like a fair deal … Green Bay could make Brown the receiver very happy. Not impossible, but hard to see such a straight-laced organization with a young head coach trying to find his footing taking the plunge.