Antonio Brown is available for trade. Steelers owner Art Rooney said the team will not release Brown, but “all other options are on the table.” Rooney eventually said that in the current moment it would be “hard to envision” Brown being with the Steelers at the start of training camp.
If by some form of magic Mr. Rooney is reading this; Please, Mr. Rooney, do not trade Antonio Brown. Instead, find a new head coach.
But, alas, here we are. Brown unfollowed the Steelers on Twitter, so obviously this relationship is beyond repair. Apparently the Steelers are seeking a first round pick in any trade, and talks will begin at the combine in February. Just because the Pittsburgh wants a first rounder doesn’t mean they will get one (except they will). But it seems important to take a look at the history of receivers getting traded to get a feel for what the market has dictated as fair value previously.
The only issue is dealing Brown really would be unprecedented. Antonio Brown is an All-Pro still in his prime. He does turn 31 before next season, so that is something to bare in mind, but this caliber of player is never available. To complicate matters further, if a team is trading such a talent it typically means there is a character reason involved. Character issues depress trade value.
You could argue given all the infighting in Pittsburgh that there is a character component here (it’s nearly impossible to say there isn’t if Brown truly threw an object at Roethlisberger and faked an injury to avoid playing in week 17).
But there doesn’t seem to be any swirling winds around Browns’ “character.” Typically the chatter surrounding a trade of such a star player would be centered around what’s fair value for a “problem” player. Perhaps due to the playoffs this story just hasn’t picked up enough steam yet and such conversations are looming.
Traded While Stud-tastic
The two best comparisons here, in terms of quality of player and talent, are Randy Moss and Brandon Marshall. Randy Moss was traded ahead of his age 30 season after spending two lackluster years in Oakland. Moss was characterized as a malcontent that never tried. The Patriots fleeced the Raiders into trading them Moss for a single 4th round pick. Moss broke the single season receiving touchdowns record his first year in New England.
Brandon Marshall was a high profile trade twice in his career. The initial trade saw Denver send out him ahead of his age 26 season to Miami after a 1,100 yard, 10 TD campaign, receiving two 2nd rounders in return. It took only two seasons for the Dolphins to tire of Marshall’s antics, shipping him to Chicago ahead of his age 28 season, after a Pro Bowl trip from a 1,200 yard 6 TD year. Chicago sent Miami two 3rd rounders to reunite the receiver with quarterback Jay Cutler.
You can throw the Moss trade out the window. Brown is commanding more than a 4th round pick. Perhaps the two 2nd rounders Denver got for Marshall is a potential deal Pittsburgh eventually accepts. But for the sake of due diligence, here are some more big name receiver trades
Detroit gets: 1st rounder, 3rd rounder, 6th rounder
Dallas gets: Roy Williams
Cleveland gets: 3rd rounder, Chansi Stuckey, Jason Trusnik
New York Jets get: Braylon Edwards
Yea, Brown is fetching more than this.
Pittsburgh gets: 5th rounder
New york Jets get: Santonio Holmes
Yea, Brown is fetching a bigger return
Minnesota Gets: 1st rounder, 3rd rounder, 7th rounder
Seattle Gets: Percy harvin
John Schneider has more or less nailed everything he has done since taking over as general manager in Seattle, but this is by far his biggest swing and miss/disaster.
chicago gets: 5th rounder
New York jets get: Brandon marshal, 7th rounder
There’s a 3rd Marshall trade! After a down season in which Marshall produced 720 yards and 8 TDs, the Bears dumped the disgruntled wideout for essentially nothing. Marshall then exploded in his first season on the Jets at age 31, posting 1,500 yards and 14 TDs.
New orleans Gets: 1st rounder, 3rd rounder
new england get: Brandin Cooks, 4th rounder
We may be getting close here. Cooks was traded to New England ahead of his age 24 season and two years of cost control left on his rookie scale contract. He had improved each season and was coming off an at-the-time career best AV of 11 in the 2016 season.
Buffal gets: 2nd rounder, EJ Gaines
Los Angeles Rams Get: Sammy Watkins, 6th round pick
Watkins never exploded like the Bills had hoped after investing two first round picks in the Clemson product. After a disappointing third season and a career marred by injuries to that point, the team cut bait with the wideout, shipping him to L.A. for pennies on the dollar. Watkins had only a single season left of team control.
New Engald Gets: 1st rounder, 6th rounder
Los Angeles Rams Get: Brandin Cooks, 4th rounder
Sammy Watkins left the Rams in free agency and the Patriots didn’t want to hold Cooks to eventually pay him in the summer of 2019. As a result the Rams swept in to replace the deep threat they had lost in Watkins. For the second time in two years Cooks had been traded, this time ahead of his age 25 season with one year left of team control.
Oakland gets: 1st round pick
Dallas gets: Amari Cooper
Dallas somehow overpaid while underpaying for Cooper in this trade. Cooper was always a talented receiver underachieving due to misuse on the Raiders. However, his last full season in Oakland was the worst of his career, and his first six games of 2018 were lackluster, to say the least.
Still, in the middle of his age 24 season with only one year of team control left beyond 2018, Dallas sent a first round pick to obtain the wideout. In terms of asset management this wasn’t the most savvy move. However, given how well Cooper played during his Cowboys tenure, it’s unlikely the Raiders will draft a player of Cooper’s talent level with the first round pick they received from Dallas.
This is all merky. There doesn’t seem to be any consistent market value spanning all these deals dating back to the Randy Moss trade. There seems to be some consistency lately, given a first round pick was moved in both Cooks trades and the Cooper trade. The original Marshall trade seems to be another realistic option, despite Marshall being five years younger at the time.
Despite the fact Brown will turn 31 before Kickoff Weekend 2019, his potential new team will inherit three years of team control at a bargain price. If a team traded for Brown they would get him at cap costs of $15.125 million in 2019, $11.3 million in 2020, and $12.5 million in 2021. Even better, none of the money would be guaranteed.
That $15.125 hit in 2019 will be the 6th highest in the league, only 125k more than Allen Robinson. Robison got three years, $42 million with $25.2 million guaranteed on the open market. Robinson is five years young, but this is Antonio Brown we’re talking about. By the time we get to 2021, Brown will have the 12th highest cap hit among receivers, one spot behind Tyler Lockett.
Three years of team control with no money guaranteed is as good as a deal you’re going to get for a premier receiver.
We can safely assume Pittsburgh won’t trade Brown within the division. We can also confidently say the Steelers would rather pay Brown $200 million dollars to permanently retire than send him to the Patriots.
We’re down to 27 potential trading partners. Any team with oodles of cap space will have an easier time swinging a deal. However, if a team really wants Brown, you can rest assured they will find a way. That being said, any team looking at less than $20 million in cap space next season prior to resigning their own free agents and draft picks probably can’t make this work. Those teams are:
Chicago (don’t have the draft picks either), Washington, New Orleans, Miami, Carolina, Tampa Bay, Minnesota, Jacksonville, Philadelphia.
Other teams looking at $20-$30 million in space have bigger issues to address. The Raiders doing an about face and sending their extra first rounders to Pittsburgh seems highly unlikely. Other teams like the Rams and Broncos may have trouble retaining their own free agents and bringing in Brown. In the case of Denver, they may view their first round pick this year as a necessary tool to address their quarterback situation.
Out of those teams remaining, here are some potential deals, broke into buckets for the type of suitor.
You *Cannot* Be Serious
Kansas city Gets: Antonio Brown
Pittsburgh gets: #31, #62 (projected)
Yup, the Chiefs could make this work financially. They’re looking at $39 million in cap space, and have to make decisions on Allen Bailey, Dee Ford, Orlando Scandrick, Damien Williams, and Mitch Morse. That may seem like a lot, but the team might walk away from Bailey at age 30. Andy Reid can turn any running back into a production monster. At age 32, Kansas City could walk away from Scandrick. The team needs to bring back Mitch Morse.
Releasing Justin Houston would open up another $14 million in space, practically the amount needed for Brown. The team is armed with two 2nd rounders due to the Marcus Peters trade. In this deal, they send the Rams 2nd rounder to Pittsburgh
We Owe Him This
Green Bay Gets: Antonio Brown
Pittsburgh gets: #32 (Projected), #44
Green Bay has two tough decisions to make regarding their own free agents; Clay Matthews and Randall Cobb. If they did this deal Cobb would be gone. They may have interest in retaining Muhammad Wilkerson, but he could prove to be too expensive.
The Packers have enough cap space to make this work if they move on from all three. After what Rodgers has put up with ever since winning a Super Bowl, the team owes him this.
Cue every “wait on QB” fantasy writer’s head exploding.
Arizona gets: Antonio Brown, #20
Pittsburgh Gets: #1
Who says no? You don’t need me to tell you this, but the Cardinals have a deep interest in doing everything possible to develop Josh Rosen. (Stop with the Kyler Murray/Josh Rosen swap garbage, by the way). Bringing in an elite wide receiver checks that box.
Plus they still walk away with a first round pick to either add the best player or try for a much needed offensive line upgrade
From the Steelers point of view, shipping out your elite receiver when trying to maximize the Super Bowl window of a 37 year old quarterback isn’t the best idea. In this scenario, Pittsburgh launches to the top of the board to add an immediate impact named Nick Bosa. Adding Bosa to T.J. Watt gives this team one of the best young pass rushing duos in the NFL. If Bosa and Watt are each 90% of their brothers, hoo-boy does Pittsburgh have something here.
San Francisco gets: Antonio Brown, #20
Pittsburgh gets: #2
Same concept, different NFC West team. The 9ers have the cap space to take on Brown’s contract, and the idea of Kyle Shanahan having such a weapon is tantalizing to dream about.
Again, Pittsburgh vaults up the board to get an impact contributor. Assuming Bosa goes first the team will have to look in a different direction. However, the draft is loaded with defensive talent, which is where the Steelers need help.
We Need This, Marcus Needs This
tennessee gets: Antonio brown
Pittsburgh gets: #19, #83
The Steelers would end up picking twice in a row in the opening frame of the draft, at numbers 19 and 20. Additionally, they get a 3rd round pick as teams in the low 20’s are attaching 2nd rounders to make their deals more enticing.
Whatever your thoughts on Marcus Mariota, he has never had a true #1 receiver. Entering the final year of his contract, the organization will have a huge decision to make in the summer of 2020 regarding their quarterback. With Mariota likely auditioning for his own job in 2019, the team owes it to him to put him in the best possible scenario to succeed.
Tons of Cap Space, QB with Rookie Scale Deal
The rookie scale quarterback contract is the biggest cheat code in the NFL right now. Likely MVP Patrick Mahomes cost the Chiefs a cap hit of $3.7 million in 2018. I don’t put too much stock into a stat like this but, the six highest paid quarterbacks in the NFL all missed the playoffs in 2018.
Teams are beginning to go the way of the Rams and the Eagles. With starting quarterbacks making salaries deeply below fair market value, the teams are loading up elsewhere on the roster in a way that simply is not possible with a ~$27 million quarterback.
new York jets get: Antonio Brown, #20
Pittsburhg gets: #3
This is similar to the trades with the Cardinals and 9ers for Pittsburgh, flying up the board for an elite defensive prospect.
As for the Jets, Darnold is entering only the 2nd season of his rookie deal, and New York needs to ensure his development.
houston gets: Antonio brown
Pittsburgh gets: #23, #54
The Texans not only have a quarterback on a rookie scale deal, but they are armed with an extra 2nd rounder from Seattle thanks to the Duane Brown trade. Pairing Antonio Brown with DeAndre Hopkins is nothing short of bonkers.
Cap Space+Vet QB+WR Need
Indianapolis gets: Antonio brown
Pittsburgh gets: #26, #34
The Colts are on track to have the most money this free agency by a wide margin. Putting Brown across from T.Y. Hilton is self explanatory.
Indianapolis is in possession of the Jets 2nd round pick thanks to the Darnold trade, meaning they may have the most intriguing assets to the Steelers. By offering the 26th pick and the second pick of the 2nd round, Pittsburgh could convince themselves they’re essentially getting two 1st rounders for Brown.
Seattle Gets: Antonio Brown
Pittsburgh Gets: #21, #85
As stated above, Seattle is down a 2nd due to the Duane Brown trade. If this deal happens Seattle wouldn’t pick until round 4. The Seahawks seem likely to be ok with that, given how well they have drafted in the late rounds over the years. This trade would take their offense to a whole new level.
Pittsburgh Hates Brown and Gets Vengeance
Bullfao Gets: Antonio Brown, #20
Pittsburgh Gets: #9, #40
#9 isn’t high enough for the Steelers to send back #20 without extra compensation, so the Bills add their 2nd rounder. In this scenario, Brown has pissed off the entire Steelers organization so badly they are banishing him to the NFL equivalent of a solitary life on Mars.