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.
Yet, it’s a little simpler for the Steelers, who are damaged. In many ways:
1. Getting third-round and fifth-round picks (66th and 141st) for the best receiver in football over the past six years is absurd. “When I saw the compensation this morning,” ex-Steeler Ryan Clark said Sunday evening, “I was shocked. This is the best receiver in football over the last six years. Oakland had the draft capital to pay a fair price for Antonio.” Credit to Raider negotiator and new GM Mike Mayock for taking a hard line on the trade, but think of this compensation. Put together, the value isn’t even of a top 50 draft choice. That’s awful.
2. The $21.1 million in dead 2019 cap money by trading Brown—11.2 percent of the Pittsburgh salary cap—is a paralyzing effect on the Steelers, obviously.
3. Two straight years, two straight mega-stars slap the Steelers in the face. Pittsburgh couldn’t find a way to make Le’Veon Bell play in 2018, and 2019 is off to a terrible start with the Brown subtraction. I asked Clark what he thought the moral of the story was. “Never be held captive by a player,” said Clark, now an ESPN analyst. “The limbo of Le’Veon Bell, in an organization that prides itself on being drama-free, played a role in the Antonio story. They just didn’t want another year of that.”
4. Mike Tomlin takes a big hit. Great coaches have to find a way to handle big and divisive personalities, and Brown drove a wedge into Tomlin’s team, and Tomlin couldn’t stop it. Tomlin’s going to have to examine how he handled Brown over the years, and be sure he doesn’t make the same mistakes with the next angry star—even if that means letting the guy walk before he can do the damage Brown did.
5. Two years ago, you could argue the Steelers had the best back in football and the best receiver in football, playing at their peaks. What do they have to show for that? For Bell, nothing for now—though they could get a Compensatory Pick in 2020 for him depending on their activity in free agency this spring. For Brown, two mid-round draft choices, and a $21-million anchor on their cap. Not good. Not good at all.
For one of the flagship franchises in the NFL, this has been an ugly last half-year.