The Pittsburgh Steelers are about to do something that does not happen often in the NFL. The team is on the verge of trading super-star Antonio Brown in his prime. Moving a Pro-Bowl caliber player on a long-term contract is about as rare as it gets in sports. So how do we go about figuring out the value of a player the caliber of AB? Sure it’s easy to just assume he will bring back a substantial haul if and when a trade were to happen. Brown does have a few blemishes that could hurt his value however. First and foremost, his actions off the field raise more than a few red flags. Add to that the facts Brown is now over thirty, and we can see why some teams may not value him as highly as one might initially think. Let’s go through some factors that will ultimately decide how much the Steelers can expect to get in a trade for their troubled receiver:
THE KHALIL MACK TRADE:
We can start here because this is the most recent super-star to be traded in the NFL. The Raiders got quite the return in their trade with the Chicago Bears. Oakland received first round picks in 2019 and 2020, to go along with a third round pick in 2020 and a sixth rounder in 2019. They did have to send a second and fifth round pick back in 2020 to complete the trade. So the Steelers should expect at least two first rounders back in return for Antonio Brown right? Well, not so fast. Mack is only 27, while Brown is on the wrong side of 30 in a league where age matters. An even bigger factor is the position each plays. Edge rusher is a much more valued commodity than wide receiver. Finally, Mack has zero off the field issues on his resume making him an easy player to commit to. The one thing in the Steelers favor in terms of value is Antonio Brown has a contract through 2021. Teams looking to acquire Khalil Mack had to worry about getting him signed to a long term deal. It’s a safe bet that Steelers won’t quite get the return the Raiders did back in February.
THE AMARI COOPER TRADE:
Here is another Raiders trade that will help determine the compensation for Antonio Brown. Oakland landed yet another first round pick for Amari Cooper, this time from the Dallas Cowboys. You could rightly argue that Brown is a far better wide receiver than Cooper. The Cowboys also have the issue of trying to get Cooper signed after 2019. The age difference is extremely significant this in this case however. While Amari Cooper may never be as good a receiver Antonio Brown, he is only twenty four years old. So maybe we are at more than just a first round pick, but less than two first rounders plus more assets.
The 2019 draft is deep at the wide receiver position. Teams will be able to choose from roughly five or six first round caliber players at that position. What this draft lacks is a sure fire top five type of talent. Mississippi wide-out D.K. Metcalf is the early favorite to go first, but barely in the top ten overall. If a team is looking for a plug and play super-star at wide receiver, this likely isn’t the draft for them. This bodes well for the Steelers as they shop Antonio Brown around the league.
It’s long been my argument that it only takes one team. One desperate owner or foolish general manager to blow the market away. When looking at the cap space teams have going into 2019, it is staggering. There are simply not enough good players making it to free agency to spend all the cap space out there. It’s particularly bad at the wide receiver position. Perhaps the two potential best at that position may not even go to free agency. Rumors are Larry Fitzgerald could consider retiring, while the Chargers could very well franchise Tyrell Williams. That would leave teams with players like Golden Tate, Randall Cobb, and John Brown to fill their needs at that position. If you’re an owner looking to make a splash and get fans to buy tickets, those names aren’t going to cut it. There are currently fifteen teams with more than $35 million to spend this off-season. The top five teams in cap space have $75 million or more, lead by the Colts at a whopping $122 million. That kind of money leads teams to do very dumb things. This is a huge advantage for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Ok so here we are. Pittsburgh can likely expect first round pick plus other assets for Antonio Brown at the very least. If Kevin Colbert is smart, he will let the smoke clear from the first day or two of free agency. After that, he can seek out the handful of teams who are shell shocked by the crazy over spending that is sure to go on. When a decent receiver like Golden Tate walks away with $15 plus million, Antonio Brown will start to look like a bargain. That’s where the fun begins. Colbert can start the bidding for more than even Khalil Mack brought in, then start negotiating from there. If this is played correctly, the Steelers can do quite well for themselves. Stay tuned for part two as we will look at the teams who would be most interested in Antonio Brown, and what the Steelers could get in return.