The Steelers have an Antonio Brown problem. And it’s a different problem than the one that they had in December.
Brown may not want to go to Buffalo, but there’s more to it than the locale. Another team involved in trade discussions earlier in the week, I’m told, walked because it was communicated to them that Brown wanted, again, to be the NFL’s highest-paid receiver under a new contract. My understanding is money was a factor for the Bills, too.
All this came after an interview with ESPN’s Jeff Darlington aired Saturday, during which Brown said, “I don’t even need football.” In turn, much of of the football world has decided it doesn’t need Brown. Or at least, it doesn’t need him under the present set of circumstances.
No one is saying, or has said, that Brown isn’t a great player. Even at 31, he’s a game-changer, having posted a record six-consecutive 100-catch seasons, while averaging 12 yards a reception in all six years, and hitting for double-digit touchdowns in four of them. He fits into any offense. He’d be the hardest-working guy on just about any team, and those in the Steeler organization, even now, will be first to tell you that.
But there’s a lot—and to this point, evidently, too much—for other teams to take on in exchange for acquiring all that Brown brings to the table.
How the Bills’ talks went down help to illustrate that. Buffalo first inquired about Brown on Tuesday, and talks went in a positive direction between the two teams from there. Positive enough, in fact, that the Bills got permission to discuss the deal with Brown’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus.
By early Friday morning, things had come undone. How? Two things had to come together for a deal to be done: the trade comp had to be agreed to—and I’m told the sides were in the ballpark on that—and the team acquiring the player has to make sure everything’s right with the player (a process that would eventually, for example, include a physical), and it wasn’t.
The Bills could have offered Brown more than Odell Beckham Jr. is getting in New York, as the NFL’s most richly compensated receiver, and maybe that would’ve convinced Brown to play there. They didn’t offer that, and the deal is now dead.
That explains why this is complicated—to get Brown, a team must be willing to…
1. Fork over high-end draft compensation. I believe if the Steelers were offered a first-round pick for Brown this week, he’d already be gone. I also believe GM Kevin Colbert when he says he won’t give Brown away—and as I wrote in the MMQB, Pittsburgh’s run models and comps on his value. Which means a middle ground has to be found there (and that’s what the Bills were in the neighborhood of). My understanding is the Steelers were working with three teams towards the end of this week, with the Bills being one of them. I don’t know if the other two were close to satisfying Steelers.
2. Give Brown a new contract. Here’s the thing: You can often convince a team to part with a pick, and free agency proves plenty of teams are willing to pay up and yield valuable real estate under the cap. What’s harder is getting a team to give up picks and money. That didn’t have to be the case here—Brown’s due $39 million over the next three years—but, at least for now, that seems to be the reality of it.
3. Gamble on Brown the person. We saw his discontent in both the ESPN interview and Brown’s appearance on HBO’s The Shop. And there are two sides to that. On one hand, the Steelers have, historically, been a team that’s much allowed for players with big personalities to be themselves, which calls into question how Brown would fit somewhere else. On the flip side, Brown’s not the first teammate to clash with Ben Roethlisberger. What can’t be question is there’s risk involved in how Brown might conduct himself when adversity hits wherever he is next.
Friday is the deadline that the Steelers gave teams to get in their best offers. So if it comes and go, it should tell you a little something about how difficult this has become for Pittsburgh.
And why so many others around the league have looked at all of the above, and one of the NFL’s great players, and been so comfortable saying, “No thanks.”
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