SEATTLE — Quite a weekend. You probably needed much of Sunday to digest the Antonio Brown trade. I know I did. So much to unpack, really.
I think of Pittsburgh’s trade of Brown to the Raiders for third-round and fifth-round picks the way I think of a college class. You get the syllabus on day one, with 15 compartmentalized lectures, all of them with tributaries that make the class so involved and complex.
With Brown, there are so many angles.
• Talent always wins. John Elway got trashed as a selfish guy coming out of Stanford in 1983, saying he wouldn’t play for Baltimore. Eli Manning got trashed the same way in 2004 saying he wouldn’t play for the Chargers. Deion Sanders invented a persona (Prime Time), found a way to moonlight with baseball as the best cornerback in football, then cashed in multiple times using one team against another in free agency.
Add Antonio Brown to that list now. Brown seemingly eviscerated his market in the last 10 weeks, since going AWOL from the Steelers in the final game of the season, then making a series of one-more-bizarre-than-the-other statements on TV and social media. But as one team executive told me Sunday, “The best players, even the a——, always have a market.” Elway found a team, and peace, and won two Super Bowls. Manning found a team, and peace, and won two Super Bowls. Sanders found multiple teams and broke the bank, and is the most accomplished multi-sport athlete of this time. Brown is a strange guy, but strange guys with six years straight of 100 receptions are going to have options. In this case, one good one.
• Gruden’s a good landing spot. The Raiders have been a willy-nilly trade-and-dump team in Gruden’s 14 months in office. With some reservations—mostly monetary—I’ll say this is a win. “One thing I know,” said Rich Gannon, who was a league MVP playing for Gruden in his first Raider stint, “is Jon loves these kinds of players. He’s got street cred with them. He’s done it with Andre Rison, Jerry Rice, Tim Brown, Sterling Sharpe, John Jett, Keyshawn Johnson … He’ll tell Antonio, ‘I’ll get you your 1,500 yards, your 120 balls, and here’s what you have to do for me.’ There are things Antonio will have to be accountable for. But honestly, I don’t think Jon will have a problem with him. And remember: Jon came up in the league coaching this position. He’ll be coaching Antonio a lot during the season.”
Bold prediction, though Gannon is a big Gruden guy. I do wonder two things: How will Brown handle losing, if the Raiders continue on that path? (Steelers regular season wins per year since Brown entered the league in 2010: 10.5. Raiders: 6.2.) And what happens if there’s a quarterback shakeup this year or next, and Derek Carr leaves and a rookie steps in? Is Brown going to be a steadying force in an unstable situation to help turn the team around? Those are legit questions. Brown was a great player and his work ethic a good example for young players. He’ll have a lot of young kids looking up to him now, and he can’t be the incendiary device he was in Pittsburgh.
• Brown’s a classic Raider. Over the years, so many players the rest the league either didn’t want or thought were kaput found their way to Oakland. Some flourished, some withered. But there’s always been a WELCOME sign in the Black Hole for players like Brown. Right now there’s so much pressure on Gruden to show he’s worth $100 million, and to breathe life into a lousy team, and to show Las Vegas it’s getting a premier team. The marriage, on the surface, makes sense. The football world’s first reaction when it looked like Brown was headed to Buffalo was, What a bummer. Brown with the Bills—that’s no fun. But Oakland is another story, as is Vegas in 2020. Now the players in this drama—Brown and Gruden most notably, and Tomlin righting the shaky ship at the confluence of the Three Rivers—have to play their parts.