Antonio Brown Forced His Way Out of Pittsburgh Like Only a Star Can

Jonathan Jones
Once Brown decided he wanted out of Pittsburgh, he used his leverage in an unsavory manner that broke NFL norms—yet he emerged on top, landing in Oakland with a restructured contract.
Once Brown decided he wanted out of Pittsburgh, he used his leverage in an unsavory manner that broke NFL norms—yet he emerged on top, landing in Oakland with a restructured contract.

The Antonio Brown saga is over. The blond mustache is out of Pittsburgh and heading to Oakland, taking with him his big chest and his $500 say-anything videos while moving much closer to shooting more sitdowns with LeBron James.

Brown will officially be an Oakland Raider on Wednesday at the start of the new league year, and the Steelers get a third- and fifth-round pick in exchange. The wide receiver also gets a restructured contract, increasing it to $79.2 million ($19.8M APY, which is highest among WRs) and $30.125 million in guarantees (a bump from $0 expected this season), as reported by Albert Breer.

Brown has wiggled his way out of Pittsburgh in a move rarely seen in the NFL. Does the star WR present a roadmap for the rest of the NFL? A how-to guide for getting out of what you consider a bad situation and earning your freedom with the team of your choice? Hardly. The rules are different when you’re one of the best in the world at what you do, and Brown is well on his way to enshrinement in Canton.

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First, let’s address Brown’s leverage—and debunk the myth that he held none. He is an attention-seeking player and potential locker room cancer who would either refuse to come to your city or do whatever was in his power to tank your season if you crossed him. That’s an incredible amount of power.

Whatever you believed happened Thursday night with the NFL Network report that the Bills were close to a trade with Brown, one thing is clear: Brown was never going to go to Buffalo. Steelers GM Kevin Colbert and Bills GM Brandon Beane could have settled on trade terms and compensation, but Brown would have blasted that deal to the sun by refusing to go to Western New York, consequences be damned.

That’s not to say that Brown used his leverage in the most savory of ways. He quit on his team mid-week before a must-win Week 17 game. He made public what should have stayed in the locker room. These aren’t cardinal sins, per se, but they’re extremely difficult to come back from.

Perhaps Brown felt this was his only way out. The more noise he made, the more annoyed his parent would get and eventually relent and give him the candy. It worked.

The NFL is a league that frowns upon individualism. Platitudes of “brotherhood” and “one heart, one team” are sprinkled throughout all 32 locker rooms. Those sayings are buttressed by a collection of owners that won’t hand out fully guaranteed contracts in a sport where the majority of players won’t ever see a second contract. When someone breaks the norm, there’s an unusual feeling.

Voluntary OTAs get skipped. Sometimes mandatory minicamp. For star players like Julio Jones and Aaron Donald wanting a new contract before the start of the season, missing training camp is worth it. This year it seemed like stars were upping the ante.

Le’Veon Bell sat out the entire year and forfeited $14.5 million. Odell Beckham Jr., having earlier in the summer secured the bag, sat down with ESPN and Lil Wayne to get his message across that he needed more out of his quarterback. Brown’s antics earned him a ticket out of Pittsburgh but also a reputation he’ll never be able to shake.

Just like every other walk of life, the more talented you are, the more people will put up with. Only the top one or two percent of the league’s players has the ability to impact a trade like this. And to do so, you either have to throw a tantrum or puff out your big chest.

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