Let’s catch up on the latest AB drama, shall we?
All it took was a few hours to sum up the entire Antonio Brown saga in Pittsburgh. Overnight, Brown went from almost getting dealt to the Buffalo Bills to spending another day with the Steelers.
News broke late Thursday evening the All-Pro wideout would be a veteran boost for the Bills’ budding passing attack. But by the time the calendar flipped to Friday, any alleged deal between the teams had been scuttled.
A statement from GM Brandon Beane. pic.twitter.com/GK8wMqFTCA
— Buffalo Bills (@buffalobills) March 8, 2019
Was a Brown-to-Buffalo deal really close? Could it still happen? Is there a holdup on compensation? Is this all a ploy for the Steelers to remind Brown that life could be so much worse and that he should forgive and forget and come back to them?
Dunno. All we do know is that this might even be the kind of wonderfully absurd story this NFL offseason needs.
For now, let’s catch you up on what you might have missed if you were busy being a healthy human being and sleeping.
So what’s all this about Brown and the Bills?
Late on Thursday night, Ian Rapoport — a connected, reliable NFL Media reporter — said that the Steelers were close to trading their disgruntled star receiver to the Buffalo Bills:
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 8, 2019
Which was a surprise — the Raiders had been the favorites and the Bills hadn’t been involved in any of the latest rumors.
Soon after Rapoport’s tweet, Brown said it wasn’t true.
— Steelers Depot (@Steelersdepot) March 8, 2019
Then, longtime Bills beat writer Vic Carucci — another credible reporter — disputed it:
— Vic Carucci (@viccarucci) March 8, 2019
As did John Wawrow of the Associated Press:
Moving the chances of #Bills acquiring Antonio Brown to the less than likely bin.
And can firmly report that nothing is considered “imminent.”
Told Buffalo did contact Steelers regarding Brown as part of doing their due diligence.
How far it got beyond that is uncertain.
— John Wawrow (@john_wawrow) March 8, 2019
Even so, we were all waiting for ESPN’s Adam Schefter to chime in. Surely he wasn’t sleeping, right?
Lol, like Schefter sleeps. He finally broke his silence a little after 3 a.m. ET, like the breaking news cyborg he is:
Buffalo has spoken to Pittsburgh about a potential trade for WR Antonio Brown, as have a handful of other teams. Those talks occurred only in recent days. A source this morning called a Brown-to-Buffalo trade “unlikely.” Not out of the question but, at this time, “unlikely.”
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 8, 2019
Another source on a potential Antonio Brown-to-Buffalo trade said it will not happen. “I don’t think the Bills trade was ever close to happening,” said one source involved in those talks. Steelers snd Bills briefly talked but “this is an old story. It was dead on Wednesday.”
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 8, 2019
So, after all those dueling reports, Brown is still a Steeler, at the moment. He hasn’t been traded to the Bills and even though that outcome is still possible — Buffalo owns 10 picks in the upcoming draft and has enough cap space to carry Brown — it’s looking less and less likely. And it appears Brown’s reticence to move to western New York and play for 2018’s 31st-ranked passing offense played a big role in shutting talks down.
Steelers and Bills had”positive” trade talks last night, but deal fell apart because Antonio Brown nixed going to Buffalo, per source.
— Gerry Dulac (@gerrydulac) March 8, 2019
Then came the Bills’ official statement on Brown, which could be the absolute truth or just a bargaining tactic to get the Steelers to lower their asking price. Everyone has hedged the language just enough, too, that everything is still on the table. Brown could still be traded to the Bills or one of 30 other teams. The Steelers could keep him. Brown pull a Vontae Davis and retire rather than play in Buffalo.
And if you were expecting a resolution before this weekend so you could go watch Captain Marvel in peace, well, that might not happen:
As talks continue on a potential Antonio Brown trade, and the situation continues to be fluid, “nothing is close” at this time, per a source. The Brown saga goes on. The Steelers has told teams that they expected, and wanted, this in place by Friday. That now looks challenging.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 8, 2019
Lmao, the NFL is so ridiculous sometimes.
Why are Brown and the Steelers on a break anyway?
Frustrations between the two sides simmered throughout a dysfunctional 2018 and boiled over as the season wore on. The team seemed to rebound from Le’Veon Bell’s season-long holdout and a 1-2-1 start en route to a spot atop the AFC North, but a 2-4 finish ended the team’s four-year postseason streak and handed the division crown to its arch rival Baltimore Ravens.
Brown finished the year with a typically great 104-catch, 1,297-yard performance, but he wasn’t blameless in his team’s struggles. He stormed out of practice before a Week 17 showdown against the Bengals, and was held out of the game after missing a string of team activities leading up to the season finale.
Was told this afternoon by a source during Steelers locker room clean out that Antonio Brown threw a ball near/at feet of Ben Roethlisberger and walked out of practice. Post-Gazette reporting Brown skipped Sat walkthrough and expected to play Sunday. He didn’t. @TheAthleticPGH
— Mark Kaboly (@MarkKaboly) December 31, 2018
Reports on the situation ranged from “embarrassing” to there not being a situation. But Brown remained annoyed, removing all Steelers references from his social media profiles in January before requesting a trade in February.
View this post on Instagram
SteelerNation thank you for big 9 years!!! Time to move on and forward……. ✌ #NewDemands
Pittsburgh wasn’t interested in releasing its star wideout, instead opting to recoup some value after it became clear his relationship with the club was beyond saving. That’s a positive, because the Steelers can only save roughly $1 million by removing Brown from their salary cap:
Antonio Brown trade reminders:
* He’s due a $2.5M roster bonus on March 17th
* If traded before 3/17, the Steelers would absorb a dead cap hit of $21.12M, $23.62M if after 3/17
* Brown is due $12.625M in 2019, $11.3M in 2020, $12.5M in 2021
* Brown turns 31 on July 10
— Field Yates (@FieldYates) February 12, 2019
That was deemed enough of a reward to facilitate a clean break from a disappointing 2018. While Pittsburgh tried to settle its differences with the All-Pro, a last-ditch meeting between Brown and team owner Art Rooney only reinforced the two sides needed a separation.
Had a great meeting with Mr.Rooney today we discussed a lot of things and we cleared the air on several issues! We both agreed that it is time to move on but I’ll always have appreciation and gratitude towards the Rooney family and @steelers organization! #CallGod #Boomin pic.twitter.com/DEgURchvhW
— Antonio Brown (@AB84) February 19, 2019
Shortly after that, Brown also aired some of his grievances on LeBron James’ show, The Shop:
— UNINTERRUPTED (@uninterrupted) March 2, 2019
Trade talks heated up around the same time as the NFL Combine, with the Raiders clocking in as early favorites to re-home the rescued wide receiver. The Jets, Cardinals, and Broncos were also a part of the discussion, though those teams seem to be out of it. For now. Who knows.
Where do the Steelers go from here?
Let’s say that the Steelers and Brown can’t work things out and they find a trade partner, at the price they want. General manager Kevin Colbert has already made it clear the Steelers will only trade Brown if the compensation is right.
Without Brown, they’d look different, that’s for sure. The 2016 Steelers earned a spot in the AFC Championship Game behind the combination of Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, and Le’Veon Bell. The 2019 Steelers will only have the oldest member of that triad. Bell sat out 2018 to protest the team’s decision to use the franchise tag on him for a second straight season. He will now be a free agent.
That would leave a 37-year-old Roethlisberger to rebuild his empire as his career inches toward a sunset, but he’s got enough talent around him to reload quickly. JuJu Smith-Schuster emerged as a true No. 1 wideout after leading the team with 111 receptions and 1,426 receiving yards. Third-year tailback James Conner was able to replicate much of what Bell brings to the table after scoring 13 touchdowns in 13 games, catching 55 passes, and rushing for 4.5 yards per carry.
Pittsburgh could use the 2019 offseason to buttress that pair with talent. Jaylen Samuels was a capable platoon back behind Conner, but the team’s receiving corps are perilously thin after Smith-Schuster. The team’s most-targeted wideout behind him was Ryan Switzer, who had 36 catches for just 253 yards in his second season as a pro. 2018 second-round pick James Washington could be pushed into a bigger role, but he caught just 42 percent of his targets as a rookie.
What would Brown bring to the Bills, if this somehow still happens?
Brown would be an expensive acquisition thanks to eight figure base salaries from 2019 to 2021. Fortunately for Buffalo, much of the cost of his four-year, $68 million extension was borne by the Steelers, which actually makes him fairly affordable — he’d be owed a little more than $36 million for the next three years, which would put him more or less among the top 20 highest paid receivers over that stretch.
That could be a bargain, or it could be an overpay. Either way, he’d easily be the best receiver the Bills have had in a long time. Buffalo would also be a fitting landing spot for Brown, who was nearly drafted by the Bills in 2010.
Brown hasn’t shown many signs of slowing down over the past six seasons. He’s had at least 101 catches, 1,284 yards, and eight touchdowns in each of those years — a span that may go down as the greatest in league history. He led the league in 2018 with 15 touchdown receptions in 15 games.
The Bills could seriously use that kind of production. Lee Evans was the last receiver to top 1,200 receiving yards in a season for Buffalo and that was in 2006. Brown has done it six years in a row.
But Brown is on the wrong side of 30, and he’ll wrap up his current contract in his age 33 season. He’s also got a ton of miles under his belt, and a decline could be steep. He’ll also have to try to produce with Josh Allen throwing him passes instead of Roethlisberger. The 2018 top-10 pick completed 52.8 percent of his passes as a rookie with 10 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. It didn’t help that he didn’t have weapons anywhere near the caliber of Brown.
Brown has used crisp routes and twitchy athleticism to create separation and embarrass defenders with his 5’10 frame. What happens when he loses some of that lateral speed as he ages? Similarly prolific receivers like Jerry Rice, Larry Fitzgerald, and Terrell Owens were able punish cornerbacks into their 30s — but they were all at least four inches taller than Brown.
That’s what would make this a risk for the Bills, or any other team. Brown is one of the most accomplished players in the game, but his clock is ticking. The five-time All-Pro may still have some elite years in front of him. He may also be aging down from “great” to “good.”
At this point, it doesn’t seem like the Bills will find out either way. But stay tuned. It took less than one sleep cycle for Brown to go from a slam-dunk to a longshot addition for the Bills. Who knows what the next 24 hours will bring in the Antonio Brown soap opera.