Show Me The Money: The Price For Antonio Brown
In the 2012 movie, "The Dark Knight Rises" there is a famous scene where Hines Ward returns a kickoff as Hines Field collapses behind him.
I imagine that is what the last 12 months feel like for Pittsburgh Steelers fans as their Killer B Quartet of Ben, Bell, Brown, and Bryant has all but blown up. From the Le'Veon Bell holdout to Martavis Bryant being traded to missing the playoffs and the Antonio Brown saga it's been an exhausting ride.
Fortunately or maybe, unfortunately, depending on how you currently view Brown and Bell, the dark cloud hovering over the Steelers may soon be gone. With the entire National Football League descending upon Indianapolis this week for the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine and Free Agency just days away, both All-Pros may soon have new homes.
Le'Veon Bell is a free agent and will be able to choose his future organization while Brown's situation is a bit trickier. He's still under contract with for 3 more years but has said his farewell to Steelers fans on social media and has requested a trade.
Where could end up? What compensation could Pittsburgh receive in return? Would trading Brown at least free up cap space so the Steelers could find someone to fill his shoes?
To answer the last question, financially the Steelers are in a bind. Last offseason, in an attempt to clear cap space to sign Le'Veon Bell, they restructured Brown's contract. As of right now, Antonio Brown has a cap hit of $22.165M. If he is released or traded in the coming days that number drops to $21.120M, which would result in a savings of just $1.045M. When you factor in that they'd have to pay some at least the minimum to fill his roster spot the cap savings are nearly null.
They're screwed, which is why they're doing everything they can to patch things up. It would also benefit the Steelers to figure out a trade in the coming weeks because on March 17th Brown is due a $2.5M roster bonus.
At his NFL Combine Press Conference, Steelers GM, Kevin Colbert, reinforced the point that they will only trade Brown unless they receive equal compensation in return. Colbert has to say this but the Steelers are in uncharted territory because a Hall of Famer caliber player still producing top-tier production on a below-market contract doesn't get traded. That's what's happening with Antonio Brown.
There are layers to the situation. 31 other teams know the relationship between Brown and the Steelers is beyond repair. The NFL is also "looking into" an alleged domestic violence incident between Brown and the mother of one of his children. While still incredibly productive, Brown will also be turning 31 in a few months and might want to rework his current contract upon landing with a new team -- Brown has 3-years, $39M left on his deal with no guarantees. That $13M average sits well below the deals that Brandin Cooks, Jarvis Landry and Sammy Watkins signed last offseason (~$15-16M AAV) and in the neighborhood of the deals Alshon Jeffery and Allen Robinson received.
Initial trade rumors where that even with his baggage Pittsburgh is looking for a 1st round pick in return.
It seems reasonable. The Cowboys traded a 1st round pick to the Raiders for 1.5 years of Amari Cooper. The Eagles and Texans traded Day 2 picks for half a season of Golden Tate and Demaryius Thomas. Last offseason, two big-name wide receivers were also on the move. The Rams traded a 1st round pick to acquire Brandin Cooks in the last year of his deal before signing him to an extension. The Dolphins also franchise tagged Jarvis Landry before they shipped him off to Cleveland for 4th and 7th round picks where he also negotiated a new contract.
At this point, no one has budged but Colbert also mentioned that "interest has grown" in the past few days. At a minimum, I think the Steelers should be able to return a 2nd rounder with a few other sweeteners.
It's also an underwhelming free agent class at wide receiver.
So, which teams might be in pursuit of Brown?
In a vacuum, all 31 teams would love to bring Antonio Brown into their organization but only a few have the cap space and ammo to reasonably do so. Let's walk through some of the favorites.
San Francisco 49ers
Oddsmakers have the 49ers as the favorite to land Brown. It makes a bit of sense considering Brown has posted photoshopped pictures of himself in a 49ers jersey on social media, interacted with 49ers players online and they have a clear need at the position.
Without looking it up, who lead the 49ers wide receivers in receiving yards in 2018?
It was Kendrick Bourne, with 487 yards. With Pierre Garcon out of the picture, the 49ers wide receiver room is getting a little thin. Dante Pettis is a promising 2nd-year player and Marquise Goodwin is a playmaker when healthy but they are clearly in need of a top dog.
The salary cap isn't an issue but it would be interesting to see what the compensation would be. The 49ers own 6 picks in the 2019 draft. 2nd overall seems out of play unless they did a pick swap (Steelers own the 20th pick). San Francisco also owns 36 and 67. Would 36 overall be enough?
2019 CAP SPACE: $69.29M
2019 Draft Capital (Pick No.): 2, 36, 67, 104, 176, 212
The Raiders have spent the last year shipping off any talent they had for draft picks and now it's their turn to make a splash. They own 4 picks inside the Top 35, including 3 1st round picks (2nd, 24th, and 27th overall) and arguably have the least talented wide receiver corp in the NFL. No one the Raiders take at 24 or 27 is going be as valuable as Antonio Brown is in the next 3 years.
Here is their WR Depth Chart: Jordy Nelson, Marcell Ateman, Seth Roberts, Dwayne Harris, and Brandon Lafell.
They have the ammo, cap space, and void at wide receiver. It's all up to how Oakland would like to rebuild.
2019 CAP SPACE: $71.72
2019 Draft Capital (Pick No.): 4, 24, 27, 35, 66, 106, 141, 197, 219, 236
The Colts seem like almost too good of a fit. Coming off a playoff birth they have the most cap space in the NFL with a clear need at wide receiver to pair with TY Hilton and an extra 2nd round pick thanks to the Jets. They could also easily hand out a new contract to Brown as well.
As far as draft ammo the Colts have 3 picks in the first two rounds (26th, 34th & 59th).
The two main roadblocks for the Colts is that they're already a playoff team in the Steelers conference and Brown may not be a fit for the locker room that Colts GM Chris Ballard is trying to assemble.
CAP SPACE: $108.33
2019 Draft Capital (Pick No.): 26, 34, 59, 89, 129, 135, 164, 199, 240
New york jets
The Jets have $100M+ in cap space and desperately need to surround Sam Darnold with weapons. How fun would it be if Bell and Brown reunited in New York?
In order to get Brown, the Jets would have to be more creative than others with their compensation. Although there are rumors that they're looking to trade down from 3rd overall, at this moment they stand without a 2nd round pick due to the Darnold trade. Would a 2019 3rd and another pick in 2020 really do it for the Steelers or would the Jets need to find a suitor to move up before they'd have enough to acquire Brown?
CAP SPACE: $104.02M
2019 Draft Capital (Pick No.): 3, 68, 93, 105, 140, 217
green bay packers
Although it seems like a long shot that the Packers would pursue the controversial wideout Green Bay has been aggressive since Brian Gutekunst took over as General Manager a year ago. They went after Khalil Mack and have spent plenty of resources on upgrading the passing game. Last offseason, they signed Jimmy Graham and spent 3 draft picks on wideouts. While some of the rookies had their moments, with Cobb and Allison hitting free agency they have no one proven behind Davante Adams. The Packers have cap space, 10 total draft picks, including two firsts, and could immediately have the best wide receiver duo in the league.
CAP SPACE: $36.32M
2019 Draft Capital (Pick No.): 12, 30, 44, 75, 114, 118, 150, 185, 194, 226