Kevin Gorman’s Take 5: Connecting the dots on the Steelers’ Antonio Brown trade
It’s amazing how trading Antonio Brown went from a bad deal to a great deal to a really bad deal for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Narratives in the NFL can change as quickly as Brown changes teams — and he’s on his third before the start of the 2019 season.
I was critical when the Steelers dealt a four-time All-Pro and seven-time Pro Bowl receiver who had at least 100 catches, 1,200 yards and eight touchdowns in each of the past six seasons to the Oakland Raiders for third- and fifth-round draft picks, calling it a disaster.
I stood my ground even as Brown seemed to spiral out of control in Oakland, from his frostbitten feet to the haranguing over his helmet, until requesting his release from the Raiders after they voided his $30.1 million in contract guarantees.
But, if we connect the dots, the Steelers ultimately allowed a marquee player who had three years remaining on his contract to end up with their AFC archrivals, the New England Patriots.
That’s not a good move, no matter how you spin it.
Patriots tried to trade for Antonio Brown in March, but Steelers did not want to trade him to a rival. So instead of having to give up a pick or picks for him in March, Patriots get Brown without having to compensate another team in September.
— Adam Schefter(@AdamSchefter) September 8, 2019
1. The swap: The Steelers turned the draft picks they got for Brown into wide receiver Diontae Johnson of Toledo and tight end Zach Gentry of Michigan.
Johnson drew comparisons to Brown because of their similarities in size, speed and their Mid-American Conference pedigree. But, like Brown, Johnson is starting his rookie season at the bottom of the depth chart.
Gentry is the third tight end, and the 6-foot-8, 265-pound converted quarterback appears to be a bit of a project.
Perhaps Johnson will evolve into a superstar and turn the trade in the Steelers’ favor, the way the sixth-round pick they got in a roundabout way for Santonio Holmes did.
That would be Antonio Brown.
2. The catch: The Steelers can contend, in a roundabout way, they traded Brown for Devin Bush.
By acquiring an additional third-round pick (No. 66 overall), the Steelers were comfortable in sending their 2019 second-rounder (No. 52) and a 2020 third-round pick to Denver to move up 10 spots to draft the Michigan star.
By that logic, the Steelers got a steal by shipping a malcontent who had quit on his team out of town for the player who could replace Ryan Shazier at inside linebacker.
Analysis: Bill Belichick has taken risks in the past, and Antonio Brown is arguably his biggest one yet. https://t.co/jWZytdCneu
— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) September 7, 2019
3. The problem: Don’t forget the Buffalo Bills backed out of trade talks for Brown, where it was reported they would have swapped their No. 9 overall pick for the Steelers’ No. 20 and additional compensation.
The trade never came as close to happening as reported, mostly because Brown was demanding a new contract.
But the Steelers had to sweeten the pot to trade Brown, adding the third-rounder they probably would receive as compensation for losing Le’Veon Bell to free agency.
In that sense, the Steelers got Bush for the price of not just Brown but also Bell. And the Raiders got Brown without having to part with any of their three first-round picks.
4. The dots: Only four years ago, Ben Roethlisberger was surrounded by amazing talent, with Bell in the backfield and Brown and Martavis Bryant at receiver.
The Steelers traded Bryant to the Raiders for a third-round pick they sent to Seattle (along with a seventh) to move up three spots to take quarterback Mason Rudolph.
The Raiders were willing to trade their fifth-rounder in the Brown deal because they received a fifth-round pick from the Steelers in the Ryan Switzer trade, which also sent the Steelers a sixth-rounder.
The Steelers used that pick (No. 175 overall) to draft outside linebacker Sutton Smith, who didn’t make the cut and wasn’t signed to the practice squad.
That puts a lot of pressure on Bush, Rudolph, Johnson and Gentry to live up to those deals.
Antonio Brown can’t play Week 1 because he wasn’t on the roster by 4pm today, which means he can’t play against the #Steelers tomorrow, which is the only thing this whole saga is missing.
— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) September 7, 2019
5. The pariah: ESPN called Brown a “petulant puppet master” for manipulating his way out of Pittsburgh and Oakland and onto the reigning Super Bowl champions.
Brown’s bizarre behavior certainly set a blueprint for NFL superstars to follow if they are willing to do anything it takes to get out of a contract and be in control.
Brown posted a private letter from Raiders general manager Mike Mayock after being fined and a private phone conversation with Raiders coach Jon Gruden after they voided his guaranteed money.
Spygate. Deflategate. Now Crazygate? Was Antonio Brown saga a ploy? A Patriots game? Or just Raiders as usual? https://t.co/Br5PnwbXbu
— Ann Killion(@annkillion) September 8, 2019
That’s when we saw the pundits say how Steelers coach Mike Tomlin should be commended for how he handled Brown and how Patriots coach Bill Belichick would never allow such a headstrong headache on his team.
Then Brown signed a one-year contract with the Patriots that is worth $15 million, and the storyline changed once again.
Brown went from playing with a future Hall of Fame quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger to arguably the greatest of all time in Tom Brady, from a team with Super Bowl ambitions to one ready to raise its sixth banner.
Sure, Brown is making $3.5 million less than his 2019 salary with the Steelers. But he’s a free agent after this season, and the three-year, $66 million contract Julio Jones signed with the Atlanta Falcons on Saturday set a new market for star receivers.
Antonio Brown was scheduled to earn $15.125M from the #Raiders in 2019. He’ll earn $0, but his new deal with the #Patriots reportedly maxes out at $15M ($9M now). Almost identical cash, & a chance to redo it all next spring.
— Spotrac (@spotrac) September 7, 2019
If Brown is on his best behavior — and we all know that’s a stretch — and wins a Super Bowl with the Patriots, he could command a better contract than he did in Oakland. And the Patriots would still make out.
The Patriots will use Antonio Brown this year, possibly lose him in free agency next spring and get up to a third-round comp pick for it. They play chess.
— Armando Salguero(@ArmandoSalguero) September 7, 2019
Still, I’ll say this: The Steelers are better off without Brown and the constant drama and distractions. They never won a Super Bowl with him and his all-about-me attitude.
But they are worse for where he ended up.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .