Elsa/Getty Images (Beckham), Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images (Brown)

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  • Antonio Brown and Odell Beckham Jr. have been the subject of plenty of trade rumors as the new league year approaches, but a trade might prove to be more problematic than expected for both teams.
By Conor Orr
February 19, 2019

With Antonio Brown forcing his way out of Pittsburgh, and Odell Beckham perpetually on that special we’re-not-actively-shopping-but-if-you-happened-to-call trading block, we’ve heard a lot about the value of a franchise wide receiver as he relates to a functional, Super Bowl-winning offense.

In case you need reminding, here are the last 18 years’ worth of leading receivers from championship teams…

2000: Ravens—Shannon Sharpe (TE), 67 catches, 810 yards, five touchdowns
2001: Patriots—Troy Brown, 101 catches, 1,199 yards, five touchdowns
2002: Buccaneers—Keyshawn Johnson, 76 catches, 1,088 yards, five touchdowns
2003: Patriots—Deion Branch, 57 catches, 803 yards, three touchdowns
2004: Patriots—David Givens, 56 catches, 874 yards, three touchdowns
2005: Steelers—Hines Ward, 69 catches, 975 yards, 11 touchdowns
2006: Colts—Marvin Harrison, 95 catches, 1,366 yards, 12 touchdowns
2007: Giants—Plaxico Burress, 70 catches, 1,025 yards, 12 touchdowns
2008: Steelers—Hines Ward, 81 catches, 1,043 yards, seven touchdowns
2009: Saints—Marques Colston, 70 catches, 1,074 yards, nine touchdowns
2010: Packers—Greg Jennings, 76 catches, 1,265 yards, 12 touchdowns
2011: Giants—Victor Cruz, 82 catches, 1,536 yards, nine touchdowns
2012: Ravens—Anquan Boldin, 65 catches, 921 yards, four touchdowns
2013: Seahawks—Golden Tate, 64 catches, 898 yards, five touchdowns
2014: Patriots—Rob Gronkowski (TE), 82 catches, 1,124 yards, 12 touchdowns
2015: Broncos—Demaryius Thomas, 105 catches, 1,304 yards, six touchdowns
2016: Patriots—Julian Edelman, 98 catches, 1,106 yards, three touchdowns
2017: Eagles—Zach Ertz (TE), 74 catches, 824 yards, eight touchdowns
2018: Patriots—Julian Edelman, 74 catches, 850 yards, six touchdowns

The conventional wisdom goes like this: Almost none of these teams needed a tempo-setting wideout (the kind of receiver who needs 10 targets a game; the kind whose mood is attached to the effect he was able to have on the game). It’s far more cost-effective to use a receiver’s basic traits to manipulate defenses, and you can find speed, strength and precision route-running fairly cheap. It’s when those things come in one package that a player gets expensive.

Here’s what makes both Beckham’s and Brown’s situations so interesting, though. Not only are they tremendously talented, but they exist on teams in a very specific, problematic moment in time: The precious remaining years of a franchise quarterback.

Should the Giants trade Beckham, they almost certainly will forego the final relevant season (or two) that Eli Manning has left. They’ll also burn one of the precious few seasons of Saquon Barkley’s athletic prime, which is a different and more exclusive window of time in which the Giants have pressure to succeed.

Similarly, the Steelers are dealing with a soon-to-be 37-year-old Ben Roethlisberger who has openly discussed retirement in years past. Their additional window is up front, with a once-in-a-decade offensive line that is also nearing the end of its collective run. Trading Brown takes arguably the most difficult-to-scheme-against wide receiver out of the equation, and all-of-a-sudden, everyone needs to work a little harder to make the offense work optimally.

This is a fascinating case study on how franchises view their ability to acquire good quarterbacks, and what, in their mind, constitutes a roster that is good enough to compete for a Super Bowl. Seeing where Beckham and Brown end up will speak volumes not only about themselves, but the people paid to evaluate them and the guys throwing them the football.

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