Forgive me for pouring cold water on the excitement of the Steelers trading Antonio Brown to the Raiders, but has anyone thought about this from a practical matter?
Here’s one thing about Oakland’s trade that shouldn’t get overlooked: When Jon Gruden took over the current roster, he thought it was so bad that he dealt both Amari Cooper and Khalil Mack in a fevered attempt to amass draft capital and cap space for the future. Early Sunday morning, he then spent a little of that draft capital (and a good deal of that cap space) on a receiver turning 31 years old just before the start of training camp, who will almost certainly not be on the roster by the time Gruden’s grand plan for sustained Raider success comes to fruition.
Did they get that much better over the course of a year (hint: no) to warrant this shift into win-now mode? Over time, will the remainder of Brown's prime be more fortuitous than digging in and developing Cooper, who is only 24? Did owner Mark Davis ever consider how disastrous it could be to simultaneously try a long-term rebuild, and to energize a new fan base that is going to need to pay for season tickets in Las Vegas two years from now?
Here’s another: Brown left a place, in part, because he felt like the singular voice of the team (Ben Roethlisberger) wasn’t supporting him. Does he think that will be the case in Oakland? Just this season, Gruden has warred with his quarterback, dumped on a player who nearly won defensive player of the year, and openly criticized a wide receiver—also from Pittsburgh—that the team traded a third-round pick for just a few weeks earlier.
Before the 2018 season, I talked to a number of Gruden’s former players at his last stop as a head coach in Tampa. While some remain by his side, there were enough complaints of a similar nature to represent a trend. Like, his tendency to use the media as a tool to piss off or motivate a player, or his reliance on outside veteran talent to set the tone in the locker room, or his habit of sometimes putting himself in a situation where it’s difficult for other players to trust him. Despite a decade away from the field, those tendencies do not seem radically different.
Maybe this is an exception. Sometimes in life, completely unpredictable forces collide and create something truly beautiful. Gruden and Brown could hone the insanity and produce football’s equivalent of Pet Sounds. They could be an example of the old guard NFL balling its fist and swinging back against the youth movement sweeping professional football.
But this is complicated. It sends a mixed message to the fan base. It sends a mixed message to the locker room. It puts tremendous pressure on a quarterback, who, by the way, may not be totally feeling bought in right now thanks to the club’s recent performance at the combine. It does not give you any clout in the "develop young talent" category.
It’s also so … combustible. Brown to the Bills would have been sad; to watch given the possibility that a transcendent wide receiver would be sapped of his prime years and handcuffed to a young quarterback in training. It would have been a long slog.
This, for better or worse, will be something different altogether.
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