Three simple words can effectively illustrate how the NFL works.
Follow. The. Money.
This is clear in the biggest trade of 2019 so far. After Antonio Brown raised hell, the Steelers swore they’d hold firm on their price, and the trade market bulged then shrunk for a back-end-of-his-prime star, it all came right back down to the money.
Brown is a Raider today because of the money. Period.
Brown is the clear winner of his trade fiasco because of the money. Period.
The Steelers got shorted on their return because of the money. Period.
And the backstory of the last six weeks can only lead you to that conclusion.
The first rumblings that Brown wanted a new contract as part of accepting any trade didn’t come in the last few days. In fact, by the time the disgruntled playmaker tweeted his farewell to Steeler fans on Feb. 12, nearly a month ago now, some teams sniffing around were operating on the assumption that dealing for him would come at a cost of more than just draft picks.
As I understand, that assumption proved to be reality as talks heated up after the NFL combine came to a close—Brown went from initially wanting tweaks (getting existing money guaranteed, etc.) to wanting a big raise. One team wanting to deal for Brown gave trade negotiations a real shot but immediately bailed when it discovered he wanted to be the highest paid receiver in the game, again, on a new deal as part of a trade.
Then, Buffalo’s involvement crystallized everything. Trade compensation wasn’t done in that case. But it was close enough—“in the ballpark,” one source said—to where the Steelers granted the Bills permission to talk with agent Drew Rosenhaus. Buffalo wasn’t Brown’s preferred destination, but his desire to have his deal redone with new money and guarantees really put the brakes on the trade.
That was the crux of it. The Bills were very much under the impression that if they could appease Brown monetarily, he’d come to Buffalo.
On Friday morning, as news broke that the trade had crumbled, three teams reached out to inquire on Brown with the Steelers: the Eagles, Redskins and Raiders. In a considerably weakened market, Oakland’s offer was the strongest, and the Steelers and Raiders tentatively agreed to the parameters of the trade on Friday night. From there, the Steelers gave the Raiders permission to talk to Rosenhaus.
There was actually one point on Saturday where it looked like the Raiders and Brown’s camp wouldn’t be able to reach an agreement on the financials, and the deal was on the verge of crumbling. Talks picked up again Saturday afternoon and went deep into the night before a deal was struck.
That deal gives Brown $30.125 million fully guaranteed—the guarantees on the contract he signed two years ago with the Steelers were gone—and an $11.2-million raise over the next three years (pushing that total from just under $39 million to just over $50 million). It also pushed value of the aforementioned four-year, $68 million extension he did in 2017 to $79.2 million, giving him an APY of $19.8 million, which makes him No. 1 again amongst receivers.
If you add all that up, here’s the reality of it …
• The Raiders paid a financial tax on the contract to get Brown for a third-rounder and a fifth-rounder. Which, when you went into this with over $60 million in cap room, can be positioned as an effective use of that space. Some other teams couldn’t afford to do it, cap-wise. Others were unwilling, but Oakland had the flexibility, so they get the benefit of not dealing picks in the first two rounds.
• The Steelers paid a draft-pick tax to avoid paying the $2.5-million roster bonus that was due on St. Patrick’s Day, and making the dead-money hit of $21.12 million even worse, and to rid themselves of a problem that was growing by the week now. And they paid that tax because few teams were willing to give up a combination of high-end draft capital and high-end financial flexibility.
• Brown collected on those taxes. He gets the money from the Raiders and better teammates as a result of Oakland hanging on to the four top-35 picks it holds in April’s draft.
It’s not hard to see the scoreboard on this one. Brown is the winner, unquestionably, leveraging his otherworldly talents for financial gain.
If you follow the money, it’s not hard to see.
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