At 12:27 a.m. Sunday on the East Coast, long after most Pittsburgh Steelers fans had gone to bed, Antonio Brown announced to the world he had a new team.
And the trade that sent him to the Oakland Raiders will be talked about for a long, long time.
The one team that kept coming up in the trade rumors with Brown over the past few months — the way the ordeal dragged on, it seemed like years — was the Raiders. So it wasn’t a complete surprise when the Raiders finished the deal, though any trade that sends a future Hall of Famer to a new team is going to be a shock.
Who won the deal? Let’s look at the parties to feel the biggest impact ...
Who won in the Antonio Brown trade?
It’s hard to put it in context now, but we saw something really unique with Brown.
In the NBA, the players have a lot of control. That’s partially because NBA owners seem to view their relationship with the players as more or less a partnership in growing the league, while NFL owners just see players as labor to be seen on Sundays and not heard. Brown flipped that on its head. It felt NBA-ish.
Brown was able to exert control over where he went, reportedly nixing a trade to Buffalo. And who knows what else behind closed doors. The Raiders gave him a reported $11.2 million raise instantly upon completion of the deal. One can reasonably guess the raise was necessary for the trade, or Brown might have nixed that too. Over the next few weeks of free agency, you’ll see some good players sign for less than $11.2 million total. Brown basically forced his way into that raise with no real leverage, especially after his actions in Week 17 that led to his benching and his comments through the offseason.
This might not end up being the watershed moment that gives NFL players more power, but it’s one of the only times you’ll see a non-quarterback call the shots like Brown did with his trade.
Over the past year it has become a sport to pick at Gruden’s every move, so let’s give him some credit on this one.
I didn’t like the idea of Brown to the Raiders ... until I saw the price. A third- and a fifth-round pick is more than reasonable for a player who will be compared to the all-time greats when he’s done. The raise he got doesn’t hurt the Raiders, who have a ton of cap space. A third-round pick isn’t nothing for a rebuilding team like Oakland, but it’s likely not going to affect the bottom line either. The Raiders spent last season as a punch line, but that changes a bit adding a player like Brown.
Gruden needed a win like this. People have piled on everything he does. It’s hard to be critical of this move. Last season Gruden got a first-round pick for Amari Cooper, who is a lot younger but nowhere near the player Brown is, then got Brown for a third and a fifth. That’s impressive.
Derek Carr (maybe?)
You didn’t realize this because few did, but Carr was very good for the second half of last season. From the Raiders’ seventh game to their 16th game, Carr had 12 touchdowns, no interceptions and a 101.4 passer rating. Those numbers don’t mean he was great, but also keep in mind he was throwing to practically nobody.
Carr can’t do this alone, and now he has one of the best receivers in football to throw to. Perhaps the Raiders still move on a quarterback in the draft and that new QB is the one who benefits. But if it’s Carr, having Brown to throw to could end up saving his career.
Mark Davis, the Raiders organization and Las Vegas
The Raiders are scheduled to move to Las Vegas next year, and they had a problem. Their team wasn’t good, and after the Khalil Mack trade they had virtually no star to sell their new fans other than Carr, whose future has been a regular topic of discussion.
That star problem is solved.
Brown gives the Raiders some more credibility, some excitement heading into a new market, and some positive news. There hasn’t been much of the latter over the past year. From a marketing standpoint alone, it probably would have been worth more to Davis and the Raiders to overpay in a trade for Brown, and they ended up getting him fairly cheap. Las Vegas has its first football star.
Who lost in the Antonio Brown trade?
The haul the Steelers got should have been shocking to everyone. A third- and a fifth-round pick for a generational player isn’t a lot. And they take on a $21.1 million cap hit, which OverTheCap believes is the largest dead money hit ever, and about 11.2 percent of each team’s 2019 salary cap.
Over and over, Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said the team would only trade Brown if it benefited them, and only for significant compensation. Nope and nope. The Steelers aren’t a better team without Brown, and they’re not better with more than 10 percent of the cap tied up in a receiver who will be playing for another team.
The most troubling part is this is the second time the Steelers have been surprised by a player exerting his power. They seemed surprised that Le’Veon Bell held out on a second franchise tag last season, and blindsided when Brown reportedly vowed to not report to Buffalo. By not letting Brown and agent Drew Rosenhaus talk trade with teams during the process, the Steelers were sending a message that they controlled the process, when that couldn’t have been more wrong.
To think the Steelers had arguably the best running back and receiver in football, and all they’ll get back for both is a third- and fifth-round pick ... that’s rough.
Other NFL contenders
Now that it’s done and we’ve seen the price for Brown, which was a third- and fifth-round pick and a $12 million raise ... no other team was willing to add more?
The Packers didn’t want to give Aaron Rodgers an all-time great receiver at the cost of, say, a second- and fifth-round pick and some of the cap space they have? The Saints couldn’t have fit it under the cap? The Titans didn’t feel it was worth getting Marcus Mariota another legitimate option, which they need?
If you look at what the Raiders paid and think it’s low, you also have to wonder why the other teams that could have significantly improved their Super Bowl chances with Brown weren’t willing to spend a little more.
Everyone has heard numerous tales about Brown by now. It’s possible he is a pain in the locker room and the trade is addition by subtraction. Weirder things have happened.
Realistically, Roethlisberger just lost an incredible receiver and between losing Brown and Bell, has seen his Super Bowl window close at least a bit.
Roethlisberger turned 37 on March 2. He led the NFL in passing yards last season but a big part of that was Brown being able to get open practically whenever he wants. Roethlisberger and Brown were as fun to watch as any quarterback-receiver combination. JuJu Smith-Schuster is good and someone like James Washington might develop into a good No. 2 option. But you don’t just lose a player like Brown and not feel it.
The Steelers are further from a Super Bowl than they were before Brown’s midnight tweet early Sunday. And given Roethlisberger’s age, that probably affects him the most.
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