Pittsburg Steelers

Let us count the ways Steelers are damaged from Antonio Brown trade

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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.

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Antonio Brown’s future NFL home likely will be Raiders

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There is real competition for Antonio Brown in trade, and I expect the Steelers to trade him as early as this week—but almost certainly before the March 17 deadline to pay Brown a $2.5 million roster bonus. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Brown’s chief suitors were Oakland, Tennessee and Washington, and I heard Saturday night there could be at least one more serious team. What Schefter’s three teams have in common: a strong head coach (Jon Gruden, Mike Vrabel, Jay Gruden) who won’t be afraid of bringing an incendiary device like Brown into the locker room. My gut feeling is the Steelers will get the first-round pick they’ve been angling to get for Brown, who turns 31 in July.

On Saturday night, I was talking about Brown’s fate with a long-time NFL GM and we discussed this point: Imagine Brown’s market—even after his disappearing act in the Steelers’ playoff-implications game in Week 17—if he’d said nothing and posted nothing Steelers-related on social media over the last two months. He continued over the weekend, telling LeBron James on his HBO show “The Shop” that he doesn’t take blame for the dissolution of his relationship with the Steelers and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. And he told ESPN’s Jeff Darlington: “I don’t even have to play football if I don’t want. I don’t even need the game … If they [other teams] want to play, they gonna play by my rules. If not, I don’t need to play.”

Is there anyone out there who can save Antonio Brown from himself?

As I reported a couple of weeks ago, Brown’s social rants took at least one team out of the trade market. Maybe Brown gets some pleasure out of damaging his market value so the Steelers won’t get as much in return. But there’s no question in my mind that he’s thrown cold water on his market, and some teams think he’d potentially be the kind of distraction—though a great player—that they don’t want.

The Raiders make the most sense. They have the ammo, with overall picks 4, 24, 27 and 35, and Jon Gruden needs a deep threat the way he needs oxygen. They have $72.9 million in cap room, according to Over The Cap. And if Jon Gruden is willing to re-do Brown’s contract after this season to add significant guaranteed money in 2020, Brown could be the three/four-year weapon to key the Oakland offense. (Smart money is on Brown playing 2019 under his old deal, a total of $15.125 million in salary and bonus; then, if he’s good on the field and not distracting off it, he could get a new contract. If he insists on a new deal day one, well, that’s going to be a problem.)

I keep thinking this about Brown’s situation: This too shall pass. His production over the last six years is peerless among NFL wideouts—his average season since 2013: 114 catches, 1,524 yards, 11 touchdowns—and I have not seen a player work at his craft harder than Brown does. I watched him at Steelers camp the last two summers work on the JUGS machine catching extra footballs long after every other receiver had left the field, doing it at times with aides pinning one arm away from his catch-radius to simulate surviving interference. I’m not saying he won’t eventually find something to make him unhappy in his new surroundings, but he’ll be motivated to prove he’s still great and not a cancer. Brown to the Raiders for the 27th pick (the Amari Cooper pick from Dallas, ironically) sounds about right to me.

Who gets Antonio Brown? Peter King thinks it’s one of these 5 teams

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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.

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