After a meeting with Pittsburgh Steelers President Art Rooney II, the cat is officially out of the bag in Pittsburgh: Antonio Brown has played his last down in Pittsburgh.
With Brown’s talent elevating him in a class of his own, it’s inevitable most teams in the league will at least place a phone call about the availability of Brown. While his trade value varies depending on who you speak with, the interest Brown generates leaves the Steelers with plenty of potential suitors for their bachelor gone bad.
So where should Brown be dealt?
Per every big decision, the best possible outcome will come with heavy thought and debate, as all options will be weighed greatly. Who will provide the most compensation? Will the Steelers have to see Brown more than once per season? Is any team willing to move heavy draft capital to acquire him? This was something discussed in a recent episode of Mic Drop as well.
These are all questions GM Kevin Colbert and the rest of the front office will have to face in the coming months. Brown’s potential trade suitors are as much of a wildcard as his social media postings. Are the rest of the 31 teams in the NFL up for play?
Narrowing potential trade destinations in search of a winner for the Antonio Brown sweepstakes:
Teams We Can (Almost) Guarantee Won’t Be Contenders
It’s highly unlikely the Steelers will want to trade Brown within the division, immediately improving a team they will see twice a season and will almost directly impact playoff implications. To picture Brown facing the Steelers bi-annually while playing in the likes of Baltimore, Cincinnati or Cleveland seems almost blasphemous, as Pittsburgh’s front office will likely hang up the phone on any division foe that calls.
Outside of the division, almost all teams are in play thanks to being outside the AFC North. Yet two teams that can be seen as potential roadblocks rest within the AFC: New England and Kansas City. Trading Brown to either destination appears unlikely, as the Steelers are still trying to capitalize on their Super Bowl window before quarterback Ben Roethlisberger retires.
While Brown to the Patriots appears unlikely, New England was reportedly making big pushes for Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. last season per Chris Simms of NBC Sports. Kansas City actually offers interesting receiver depth in return for Brown, yet it might not be tempting enough to potentially see Brown twerking in the end zone against Pittsburgh late in January.
Teams eliminated: Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Kansas City Chiefs, New England Patriots
Teams With Little/No Cap Space For Brown
Immediately after Brown announced his meeting with Rooney, his Instagram live rant provides a little insight into what a new contract the 31 year old receiver would be looking for:
“If your team got guaranteed money, they want to get to know me and work with me, tell them call me.”- Brown on Instagram Live
Perhaps Brown was inspired by listening to Wu-Tang Clan’s “CREAM” (Cash Rules Everything Around Me) before hitting the record button, but the receiver appears serious about wanting guaranteed money moving forward.
Should the Steelers decide to deal Brown during the first five days of the league’s new year (March 13-17), the organization will have to eat $21 million in dead cap space. Should Brown be dealt after June 1, the Steelers would be able to spread his dead money to $9.54 million in 2019, and $14.08 million in 2020, per ESPN‘s Dan Graziano.
With his 2018 salary converted to a signing bonus, Brown will not see any more guaranteed money moving forward unless a restructured deal occurs. Brown is scheduled to annually make the following on the last three years of his contract:
2019- $12.6 million
2020- $11.3 million
2021- $12.5 million
With guaranteed money being a top priority for Brown (or at least an annual salary matching a player of his caliber), cap space will be a big priority for a team wanting to land Brown.
For the sake of hypothetical and this article, we will have to assume a team’s cap number as of now will stay around the same, since we cannot predict moves to free up space. In the likely scenario Antonio sees a restructured deal in a trade, a team would likely need around $20 million or more in cap space to comfortably add Brown to the roster when factoring in guaranteed money as well.
Eight teams, per Spotrac.com, do not have the preferred cap space* to add Brown to their roster ($20 million or more in space) and thus have been eliminated as potential landing spots for Brown.
*Cap number is a hypothetical “safe” estimate, reflects current figure, and does not account for future moves.
Teams eliminated: Carolina Panthers ($15 million), Tampa Bay Buccaneers ($15 million), Miami Dolphins ($11.3 million), New Orleans Saints ($6.5 million), Chicago Bears ($5.9 million), Minnesota Vikings ($5.8 million), Philadelphia Eagles ($-1.7 million) and the Jacksonville Jaguars ($-2.4 million)
Teams Who Likely Will Not Seek Antonio Brown
Cap space and out of division? Congratulations on advancing to the next phase of selections.
Now, we will focus our efforts on teams who don’t essentially need an Antonio Brown on their team, whether it be for receiving depth or needing to spend cap space for other needs.
The Dallas Cowboys are primed to ink Amari Cooper to a wealthy extension, while also needing to focus on DeMarcus Lawrence’s impending deal as well. (Not to mention that Earl Thomas guy they like, too). While anything is up for discretion with owner Jerry Jones, Dallas probably won’t be fighting for the rights to AB.
The Los Angeles Rams have perhaps the best receiving trio in professional football, with Robert Woods, Brandin Cooks and Cooper Kupp on the roster. As much as Hollywood would love to welcome Brown, the Rams will focus their efforts on keeping key pieces to ensure they’re capable of making a few more Super Bowl runs.
The Denver Broncos have been rumored to be a potential destination for Brown, yet Broncos analyst/personality Ben Allbright confirmed on “Orange and Blue 760 AM” that Brown would not end up in Denver. With receiver Emmanuel Sanders exchanging shots with Brown over Twitter, the Broncos may not be warming up for an idea of a reunion anytime soon for the two former teammates.
The Indianapolis Colts are heavy favorites to land Brown, if not his teammate Le’Veon Bell, due to the insane amount of cap space ($107.5 million ready to spend) in 2019. What’s stopping Indianapolis? GM Chris Ballard and his comments to ESPN’s 1070 The Fan about wanting “team first” players while being accountable, which doesn’t exactly describe Brown at this moment.
While a OBJ/AB receiving duo would be remarkably awesome to watch, it’s hard to envision New York doubling down on the problems they currently have with Beckham, especially with trade rumors that nearly saw the Giants wave goodbye to him last season. With the potential of clashing personalities and an entire bankroll sunk into their receiving corps, the Giants would likely pass to have business boom in the big apple.
Another dream scenario would see Brown landing in Atlanta to team up with Julio Jones, yet some would prefer Brown take his ventures elsewhere. “Nah man, we tight over here. We good over here”. Who muttered those words? Why Julio himself when asked by TMZ Sports in January. With the Falcons looking for help on the defensive side of the football in free agency and a receiving corps that already features Jones/Calvin Ridley for the future, Atlanta doesn’t appear to be in play.
The Los Angeles Chargers have nearly zero connections between them and Brown, as a receiving corps of Keenan Allen/Mike Williams/Travis Benjamin will make do as the Chargers will look to spend money in other places. Not to mention, Derwin James and Joey Bosa will be looking at some pretty pennies in the future as well.
Teams eliminated: Dallas Cowboys, Los Angeles Rams, Denver Broncos, Indianapolis Colts, New York Giants, Atlanta Falcons, Los Angeles Chargers
Teams With Lesser Draft Capital
We have now trimmed our list to just 11 lucky potential teams left in this make-shift matchmaking game show for the talents of Antonio Brown.
From this point forward, all teams have the potential cap space (as of now) for Brown and somewhat of a place/need for him as well.
With Pittsburgh shying away from spending big in free agency every off-season, it’s almost assumed acquiring draft capital will be a focal point in trade talks.
This eventually circles back to what compensation the Steelers would potentially want in exchange for Brown. Opinions will fly everywhere for Brown’s true trade value, but sources have been adamant to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler that the team will be patient through the process and will want a “high draft pick” in exchange for Brown.
The term “high draft pick” is entirely open to interpretation, yet it’s tough to imagine the Steelers wanting to settle for anything outside of the top 100 picks in the draft, or less than a third round pick.
Some teams have a tremendous amount of capital, while others barely have any to make it to final cuts. It’s definitely not out of the picture for the teams listed below, yet their stock in the 2019 NFL Draft might not be as exciting as other options and provide less wiggle-room in terms of draft picks:
The Arizona Cardinals currently have the number one overall pick, and don’t appear to be shy about trading it away. However, if the Cardinals were to somehow include this years number one pick in trade talks, the Steelers would hang up the phone immediately and do cartwheels all the way down to the league office. With Arizona unlikely to deal the first pick and only having two others in the first three rounds, Brown just might be able to avoid the desert.
The Buffalo Bills have been talked about as a destination for Brown, but only from Steelers fans who wish for him to suffer. The Bills have a young quarterback with a rocket arm, cap space and plenty of room in the receiving corps for Brown to get his. The problem? Buffalo only holds all three original picks in the first three rounds.
Detroit may be an under the radar team to grab Brown if they were interested in back either Kenny Golladay or Marvin Jones in a package back to Pittsburgh. However, when talking pure draft stock, the Lions don’t roar like other potential suitors. With the Lions third round pick swapped with the Patriots, the value of draft position doesn’t bode well for Detroit in this specific scenario.
Antonio Brown has been very sneaky about his desire to be in San Francisco, although the likes of Jerry Rice have been vocal about AB wanting to be in SF. In a similar situation to the Cardinals, it’s unlikely the second overall pick is in play for Pittsburgh, leaving only two other picks to work with in trade negotiations.
The Seattle Seahawks are also an interesting option for the Steelers, yet only boast two picks in the first three rounds thanks to a trade with the Houston Texans, sacrificing their second round pick. With picks no. 21 and 85 in play, that might be enough to turn off the Steelers if they’re looking for a deal with multiple picks/package deal.
Tennessee is in need of another receiving option across from Corey Davis, and AB might be the elixir to get quarterback Marcus Mariota going in 2019. With the Titans just one pick ahead of Pittsburgh in all three rounds being considered in this scenario, that could make for some interesting dialogue between the two teams. However, with no extra picks, greener pastures are out there for Pittsburgh if draft capital is the main source of trade value.
The Redskins are the final team to not make the last cut of potential teams to trade for Brown, although there exists a need for a true number one receiver in Washington. With the Skins likely looking at quarterback at some point in the early rounds, it’d take a lot for Washington to part ways with one of their picks, even if it means acquiring one of the best pass-catchers in the league.
Teams eliminated: Arizona Cardinals, Buffalo Bills, Detroit Lions, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, Tennessee Titans, Washington Redskins
The Top Four Trade Destinations For Antonio Brown Are…
Green Bay Packers– The Packers currently tout a little over $34 million in cap space to use, and with Aaron Rodgers’ days beginning to be numbered, a Super Bowl is on the mind for everybody in Green Bay. Pairing Brown opposite of Davante Adams would be a nightmare for defensive coordinators, and with the Packers totaling 4 picks in the top three rounds (2 firsts), Green Bay may be a little more willing to wheel and deal if it means getting one of the best in the game.
Houston Texans– Speaking of seeing two top receivers in the same area, Houston just might have enough fire power to slot Antonio Brown next to DeAndre Hopkins. The Texans are in possession of four picks in the top 100, including back to back picks in the middle of the second round. Could Brown be the last infinity stone to Houston’s gauntlet? $75 million in cap space could take care of Jadeveon Clowney and spot Brown some nice change as well.
New York Jets– With over $100 million in cap space for 2019, an opening for a number one receiver, an up and coming young quarterback and playing in one of the biggest media-driven cities on the planet, AB would be able to fit right in for the Jets’ spotlight. Two third round picks and a total of four in the top 100 could give the Jets the firepower to secure a franchise receiver for their franchise quarterback.
Oakland Raiders– While the Raiders are still trying to figure out where they will play for 2019, Oakland currently hold the keys to what is the most important off-season in a long time for the franchise. Five picks in the first three rounds topped off with three in the first? Need a replacement for Amari Cooper? The draft is for Oakland’s taking, and with nearly $70 million in wiggle room for cap space, the Raiders present the biggest, glorious trade destination to send Antonio Brown packing for.
Saunders: T.J. Watt Not among Long List of Steelers’ Issues this Offseason
Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt, unhappy with the way the 2020 season ended, chose not attend his exit interview with the team, according to a report on Monday by WXDX-FM host Mark Madden.
Watt denied the report, saying that he had in fact met with Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert, head coach Mike Tomlin and defensive coordinator and de-facto outside linebackers coach Keith Butler before leaving the city at the close of the season.
Would love to hear who Mark’s sources are. They certainly can’t be myself, Coach T, Kevin Colbert or Coach Butler. All of whom I met with during exit interviews, prior to packing my own things after a hard fought season trying to give everything I have for the city of Pittsburgh. https://t.co/wqJsGObYp7
— TJ Watt (@_TJWatt) January 26, 2021
Let’s make no mistake, the Steelers have a lot of problems this offseason.
• They chose not to retain three coaches and another retired. The general manager, head coach and defensive coordinator are all working on year-to-year contracts.
• Tight end Vance McDonald has already retired. Center Maurkice Pouncey looks like he’s leaning that way.
• Starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger hasn’t made his decision public yet, but he’ll either retire or return and contribute to a salary cap crunch that already has the team operating way in the red.
• And that’s before any of the Steelers’ 19 free agents gets a chance to re-sign.
All told, at least a half-dozen starters are unlikely to return along with several key rotational players.
Regardless of whether he did or didn’t attend his exit meeting with the team last week, T.J. Watt is not one of those problems.
The all-everything linebacker was the best player on one of the best defenses in the league all season, is scheduled to return for his fifth season in black and gold in 2021 and is the player most likely to be offered a long-term extension by the club between now and then.
Even despite the loss of cohort Bud Dupree and sitting out a meaningless finale in Cleveland, Watt led the NFL in sacks, tackles for loss and quarterback hits, he was named a first-team Associated Press All-Pro and voted Steelers MVP by his teammates. He remains the odds-on favorite to become the NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
Watt is coming back, he’s still going to be really, really good, and nothing said or not said in an interview would have changed that.
The rest of the team?
Saunders: Steelers’ ‘Standard’ Makes for Tough Evaluations
PITTSBURGH — “The standard is the standard.”
Of all of Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin’s unique sayings, that might be the most ubiquitous.
It’s also the one that’s just as much about the place that Tomlin coaches than it is about his particular style.
In Pittsburgh, the standard is the Super Bowl. That’s a standard that was set long before Tomlin arrived in the Steel City and will likely remain long after he’s gone. When you’re the franchise with the most Lombardi Trophies, anything short of adding to that case is a disappointment.
On Sunday, the Steelers suffered that disappointment, in somewhat spectacular fashion, giving up four first-quarter touchdowns to before dragging their way back to a respectable final score in a 48-37 loss to the Cleveland Browns.
That is, respectable anywhere else. Not in Pittsburgh, where first-round playoff losses, even on the heels of 12-4 regular seasons, draw ire and not adulation.
While that standard is a well-earned one when it comes to the level of play that the football team has shown it is capable of achieving, it’s not a particularly good one when it comes to evaluating the participants.
On Sunday, the Steelers’ first play of scrimmage saw center Maurkice Pouncey snap the ball 20 yards over the head of his quarterback and into his own end zone for seven Cleveland points. If it wasn’t so horrifying to watch for the Steelers faithful, it would have been hilarious. You couldn’t even make such an absurd way to start the game.
As the game went on, and the Steelers defense faltered time and again on the way to giving up 48 points on the day, it was undrafted rookie corner James Pierre and outside linebacker Cassius Marsh, freshly plucked from Indy’s practice squad, playing big roles, as injuries and COVID-19 conspired to leave the once-ridiculously strong defense a feeble parody of its former self.
Those aren’t excuses. Every team has dumb and weird things happen. Every team has injuries and absences. Truly great ones find a way to overcome those things in the big picture.
On the small scale, though, that’s more than enough to cost a team one game. And in the playoffs, you don’t get a mulligan. So while the focus on this season-ending Monday is rightfully on the team’s 0-1 playoff record, the 12-4 regular season probably provides a better picture of how good and how successful this truly team was.
One-game playoffs are by their nature very random events. It doesn’t take a lot for a good team to be beat a great one or a mediocre team to beat a good one.
“You know, it’s always a cumulative body of work,” Tomlin said. “One performance can put an exclamation point on decision making and things. We also assess the cumulative.”
So when Tomlin was asked after the game how he should be held accountable for failing to win a playoff game in his second straight postseason appearance, he leaned on another one of his pet sayings.
“It is what it is,” Tomlin said. “Our record is our record. Our performances are our performances. Don’t run away from that.”
The record is what it is. The Steelers had a wildly successful first three-quarters of the season, stumbled down the stretch, and face-planted in the postseason. That means that in Pittsburgh, the team failed to meet the standard for success, and that has many talking about Tomlin’s future.
Fortunately for Tomlin, the Rooney Family also seems to have a pretty keen understanding about the volatile math of the playoffs. After all, grading every season on a Super Bowl or bust, pass-fail grading scale, would involve a lot of failing grades. But the Steelers have had more stable leadership than any other NFL team, with just three coaches going back to the 1960s.
Chuck Noll went four years without winning a playoff game twice, once from 1980-83, going 0-2 and didn’t make the playoffs at all from 1985-88. Bill Cowher missed the postseason three straight years from 1998-2000. Tomlin is on his second such four-year span, going 0-2 from 2011-14 and now 0-2 from 2017-20. That’s a lot of failing, and a lot of guys that kept right on with their jobs.
The standard may be the standard in the fans’ eyes, but it’s clear that in the evaluation of coaches, the Rooney family has other methods. Perhaps Tomlin has failed in some of those areas, as well. His strategy on Sunday was questionable in many facets and in-game management has never been a strength. The way the game started, with a 28-point deficit and the fact that it came at the hands of the Browns likely did Tomlin no favors.
“There’s pain associated with where we are right now,” Tomlin said. “Ain’t no running away from that. That’s football and that’s life.”
There are many questions about what the Steelers team will look like after an offseason that is sure to be full of turmoil and turn over. It’s possible that may include change at the head coach position, but it seems overwhelmingly more likely that it will not. It’s hard to argue with what has led the Rooneys and Steelers to so much success. It’s part of why the standard is the standard.
Steelers Now Staff 2020 Season Predictions
Here are our Steelers Now staff predictions for the 2020 season. Think you know better than we do? Leave your prediction in the comments.
NICK FARABAUGH, STEELERS NOW ANALYST, REPORTER
The Steelers boast an impressive defense. They return most of the guys from last year except Javon Hargrave and Mark Barron, but they do add back in Stephon Tuitt. This is still a defense that has playmakers at every level. From T.J. Watt and Heyward to Devin Bush to Minkah Fitzpatrick and Joe Haden, this is a defense that offensive coordinators do not want to face, period. This team had an astonishing 38 turnovers forced last year, and I have to think while they may not repeat that number, they’ll get close to it. It was a nice depth signing to bring on Sean Davis as well in case of any injuries to the safety group. I don’t see this defense taking much of a step back.
However, the offense should take a step forward. After a year without Ben Roethlisberger, he is back and by all reports looks great. The additions of Eric Ebron and Chase Claypool give him an even more expansive group of weapons than he had coming into last year. The offensive line depth looks fantastic thanks to the signing of Stefen Wisniewski and picking Kevin Dotson in the 4th round. This team has a lot of schematic flexibility. With Matt Canada bringing his motion and play-action concepts with him as well, this offense has a lot of upside to it. I think this offense takes a big step up this year, especially in the red zone.
The Steelers prediction is not too tough on paper. The NFC East is an OK division, and while the NFC South has some tough teams, the Steelers are very capable of winning all those games. Not pulling the Chiefs is a pretty nice bonus, too.
Season Prediction: 11-5
Three other predictions that I will throw out:
• Eric Ebron will lead this offense in receiving touchdowns. He’s going to be a huge threat in the red zone for this team.
• Steven Nelson gets 3+ interceptions this year. It was a bit of a down year in terms of ball production for him last year, but that changes this year.
• James Conner stays healthy enough and gets his first 1,000-yard rushing season.
ALAN SAUNDERS, STEELERS NOW MANAGING EDITOR, BEAT WRITER
With a very, very weird offseason, I think the beginning of the 2020 season is going to be tough, even for good football teams. We’ve already seen that through Week 1, with the San Francisco 49ers dropping a game to the Arizona Cardinals and the Indianapolis Colts and Philadelphia Eagles finding ways to lose to the Jacksonville Jaguars and Washington Redskins.
But the Steelers have been blessed with a very light open to their season. They’ll get the New York Giants, fresh off a coaching change, followed by the listless Denver Broncos and DeAndre Hopkins-less Houston Texans, setting the team up for a potential 3-0 start before facing a pair of playoff teams in the Tennessee Titans and Philadelphia Eagles. Later non-division games at Jacksonville, against Washington, at Buffalo and against Indianapolis all seem very winnable.
Divisional play should also lean the Steelers’ way, as Cleveland has not significantly improved, and while Cincinnati will be much better, they were so bad last season, it would hard to be worse. They should be favored in four of six division games.
From a team standpoint, they certainly got better than last year, simply by the addition of Roethlisberger. If this defense can drag the offense to an 8-8 record without Roethlisberger, how good can they be with him? Truly, the sky is the limit, as there isn’t a single game on the Steelers’ slate that seems unwinnable at the outset of the season.
The lone stumbling block will be a Baltimore Ravens team that defeated Pittsburgh twice last year and also got better in the offseason, adding defensive lineman Calais Campbell and five top-100 draft picks from the 2020 NFL Draft. The Ravens are the best team in the division, and even Roethlisberger won’t be a sure thing to change that math in the Steelers’ favor.
Season prediction: 11-5, No. 5 seed in AFC, loss in AFC Championship Game
Bonus Steelers predictions:
• Diontae Johnson will be the team’s leading receiver.
• Three Steelers will have more than 10 sacks.
• Chase Claypool will score more than four touchdowns.
Bonus NFL predictions:
• The New England Patriots will have a better record than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
• The New York Jets will finish in last place.
• Joe Burrow will win Offensive Rookie of the Year.
MIKE VUKOVCAN, CO-FOUNDER
12-4. The Steelers will win the AFC North and will play the New Orleans Saints in Super Bowl. The team’s biggest offensive weapon will be Ebron.
MIKE ASTI, DIGITAL CONTENT MANAGER
11-5. I have Steelers winning AFC North because of actual stability at quarterback and another year together for the defense. Roethlisberger will also be more efficient than he’s been because of the addition of Ebron in particular, who will be among best offseason additions throughout league.
CALE BERGER, DIGITAL CONTENT PRODUCER
11-5. Win AFC north. lose to Chiefs in AFC championship. Defense will be stellar. Diontae Johnson team MVP