The Pittsburgh Steelers and wide receiver Antonio Brown appear to not exactly be on the same page at the moment. Brown was benched for the team’s final game against the Bengals after reportedly missing a practice and blowing up at a teammate in the week leading up to the game. More recently, his head coach, Mike Tomlin, said that he had not been able to reach the wide receiver. And, CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora reported that Brown had requested a trade.
The mercurial receiver is still one of the league’s best entering his age 31 season and teams would likely line up to try and acquire his services if the Steelers became serious about trading him. With that in mind, time for some reckless speculation about where Brown could possibly fit both within cap requirements and team needs.
First things first. Brown will have a cap hold of $22.1 million next season and if the Steelers were to trade him prior to June 1, they would have over $21 million in dead money on the cap next year. If they trade him after June 1, that number drops to $7 million according to Over The Cap. So, if the Steelers were actually interested in trading him, it likely wouldn’t come until after both free agency and the draft, meaning the current cap numbers we’ll be citing here will almost certainly look a lot different. Still, that caveat out of the way, let’s get to the destinations.
San Francisco 49ers
This one started to make the rounds after tight end George Kittle tweeted at Brown, which was followed by a retweet from Brown and his following of the team on Instagram.
Take from that what you will, but the 49ers do have the means in terms of cap space to make a deal happen. According to OTC, San Fran has over $66 million in space heading into next season, the seventh highest total in the league. They also do have a glaring hole at wide receiver where their leading receiver was Kittle (88 receptions 1,377 yards 5 TDs), but the next closest guy had 42 receptions.
Part of that is Jimmy Garoppolo getting hurt and Marquise Goodwin missing time, but adding Brown to the lineup certainly couldn’t hurt Garoppolo coming back from an ACL tear.
New York Jets
The Jets also had a player immediately begin “recruiting” Brown with safety Jamal Adams tweeting at the wide receiver after all of the news broke.
The recruitment is understandable. New York has a young quarterback in Sam Darnold who didn’t have a ton of weapons to work with in the receiving corps. The Jets ranked 28th in Football Outsiders‘ passing efficiency metric this season and the top pass catcher was receiver Robbie Anderson with 50 receptions. Brown would certainly give Darnold a target he could rely on game-in and game-out. The problem is, the Jets have a lot of holes to address and Brown would only address one while taking up a significant portion of the cap.
The next two teams on this list are likely closer to contending than the first two. Detroit struggled in the first season under Matt Patricia, ranking 23rd in Outsiders’ passing efficiency metric. The team traded receiver Golden Tate to the Eagles mid-season and while Kenny Golladay stepped up, there’s a need for more weapons outside. Theo Riddick had the second-most catches on the team with Marvin Jones checking in at number four behind Tate who was traded after seven games.
The Lions have about $34 million in space at the moment so they have the capability to make a deal happen and most of their guys are locked in for next season.
The Colts, a current playoff team, have built significantly through the draft in the first two seasons under GM Chris Ballard and could make a splash with a trade this offseason if they wanted. According to OTC, they enter the offseason with the highest amount of cap space at over $118 million. They could easily absorb Brown into that space while also adding some help for the secondary in free agency.
Adding a receiver behind T.Y. Hilton should be a priority this offseason as outside of Hilton and tight end Eric Ebron, the weapons were limited. Brown would make for a fearsome duo with Hilton and combine with Ebron underneath to give Luck a trio of options in the passing game. The biggest problem the Colts would likely have in trying to make a trade would be Pittsburgh’s unwillingness to trade Brown within the conference to a team they’ll be competing for a playoff spot against.
The Seahawks do have the space for Brown with over $54 million according to OTC. Obviously, Seattle has gotten used to outspoken personalities in their locker room over the years, though they have cut down on a number of those guys in the last several. Russell Wilson had a strong year with the combination of Tyler Lockett and Doug Baldwin on the outside throwing for over 3,400 yards and 35 touchdowns with only seven interceptions this season.
Is wide receiver a need like the other teams on this list? Not really. Would it be fun to watch Wilson and Brown work together based on Brown’s ability to get open whenever Ben Roethlisberger extended plays over the years? Yes.
What Would A Trade For Brown Cost?
The short answer is, we have no idea. There’s not a ton in the way of recent precedent here for a guy coming off of six straight 100-plus catch, 1,200-plus yard seasons. Brown’s age, and contract, would play into any trade package offered so it’s unlikely that the Steelers would get close to what the Raiders got for Khalil Mack. But, depending on the team, they could get something like what the Raiders got for Amari Cooper. That said, like the rest of this post, we’re in the realm of pure speculation so it’s useless trying to predict what a team would give up to get a guy like Brown.