If you've been able to keep up with the Antonio Brown saga in Pittsburgh through its entirety over the last four months, please send the Sparknotes our way, because it's getting hard to follow -- both chronologically and logically.
Most recently Brown has done things like post tweets, videos and Instagram pictures of himself telling Steelers fans goodbye and announcing that he will go to the team that gives him the most guaranteed money -- which isn't really up to him since he's not in any way a free agent, nor will he be cut to become one. To this point, all of that just seemed like ill-advised tactics to gain leverage for Brown to move on, but identifying the actual weight of those posts and actions was hard to gauge. But on Tuesday Brown posted a picture of he and Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney saying that both had talked, are on good terms, but will be parting ways.
The reality of that seems crazy, especially on the Steelers side of things.
First and foremost, the Steelers are not an organization that has ever been pushed around or given into the demands of players who put themselves before the team. It's just not something they have ever budged on as a franchise. That's why when Brown was late for meetings and was causing a scene at practice last year, I was shocked they did not take more discipline than what they eventually did, which was just benching him for the final game of the season. But there are a lot of numbers that make this a tricky situation.
Brown is owed $21M whether he's on the Steelers or not. He'll get a roster bonus if he's not traded before March 17, and his contract for the next few years reads: $12.6M in 2019, $11.3M in 2020 and $12.5M in 2021. Oh, and by the way, Brown turns 31 years old this July.
The age and the contract numbers make this hard on the Steelers to get anything near what his production deserves back in a trade, but this thing is happening. Antonio Brown -- arguably the best receiver in the game -- has played his last down for the Steelers.
That's where the draft comes in.
The Steelers aren't going to want a player deal, because there's no way any team would give up a player who is anywhere near Brown's contract numbers or production numbers to make it worth it. So that leaves only draft picks to be the preferred form of compensation.
"They will want a 1," an NFL general manager told ESPN back in January, meaning a first round pick. But that was then, and now the Steelers have almost no leverage to their name in this predicament. Because of that, their tune has changed, and teams have started to call their bluff.
Pelissero of NFL Network said he polled seven different NFL executives who said the Steelers are now shooting for a mid-round pick for Brown's services. That means Brown could be moved for a pick like a third or fourth rounder, certainly a bargain for the kind of production Brown can bring, if you can afford it.
So what teams can?
San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers are the hot name to land Antonio Brown, and the reason is because not only do they have the cap space to absorb him with $65M free right now, pulling the trigger on a player of his talent could be what puts them over the top with a strong draft around him in 2019.
The 49ers aren't that many pieces away from being a really good football team on paper, and now that Brown's price tag is much lower than it was before, as long as you can make sure he won't go haywire like he did in Pittsburgh, this one makes a lot of sense.
Green Bay Packers
Imagine an offense with Aaron Rodgers, Davante Adams, Antonio Brown and T.J. Hockenson/Noah Fant/Irv Smith. Yep, give me that all day.
The Packers currently have $35M in cap space, so though they would have to make some tough decisions around him, pairing Brown with a guy like Rodgers would create an electric duo. But, we know Rodgers bumped heads with the old coaching staff, and Brown did with the Steelers staff. Would it be a time bomb waiting to go off?
Better question: Even if it is, would it be worth it for a year or two?
After trading away Amari Cooper, the Raiders need a true offensive star badly.
Brown makes sense here due to the fact that the Raiders have so many draft picks in the Top 100, and the fact that they have $71M in free salary cap space, but would this locker room work for Brown? If he wants to be the savior of the offense and the focal point of everything they do, this is his place to be that. But he if truly wants to win, I'm not sure Oakland is the situation is where he wants to be.
New York Jets
According to Bet Online, the Jets are actually the odds-on favorite to land Antonio Brown, and that was even before his price tag went down to what it seems to be today.
The Jets have the second-most cap space in the NFL at $95M. They also have two third round picks to play with to potentially out-bid other teams for Brown's services. But the logic of this one all depends on Sam Darnold.
Right now Darnold is the young starting quarterback for a Jets franchise that has needed leadership, stability and potential from that position for a long time. Brown is an alpha in many ways. He doesn't like to share spotlight, and likes his voice to be heard loud and clear. Would that stunt Darnold's leadership on the team? If the team thinks such a move would shrink Darnold's presence, Id' be very hesitant about it. But if they think Darnold can handle it, Brown would be one heck of an offensive weapon to help accelerate Darnold's NFL progression.
New England Patriots
This one is the ultimate wildcard, but it might not be as crazy as you think.
It has been reported that the Patriots aggressively tried to trade for Odell Beckham Jr. last year -- who would have had a cap hit of $21M this year, just like Brown. So we know the Patriots are interested in a splash at that position. Also take into account the fact that Rob Gronkowski doesn't have many years left, if any. That would free up $11M in cap space. Then, for the cherry on top, the Patriots not only have two second round picks, but they'll also get two extra third round picks in the form of compensatory picks for losing Nate Solder and Malcolm Butler last year.
A long shot? Maybe, but don't count the Pats out as a landing spot for Brown.