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Steelers Stock Report: The Antonio Brown post-mortem and trade prospects

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Time to check in on the Pittsburgh Steelers Stock Report.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at New Orleans Saints Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

A little over a month ago, Steelers chairman Art Rooney II was asked about Antonio Brown. By that point, the collective understanding was that the relationship between Brown—who had been at the center of some sort of dust-up in the week preceding the Steelers’ must-win regular season finale against the Bengals, which ultimately led to Brown missing that game—and the Steelers had grown too contentious, too discordant to reasonably attempt to salvage. The Rooneys are royalty ‘round these here parts, so some gentle assurance from Art II, one of the NFL’s most forward-facing executives, regarding Brown’s future would’ve done wonders to placate the increasingly-hostile fanbase—even if said assurance wasn’t entirely truthful.

Instead, Rooney was refreshingly forthright, telling the hand-curated media horde that it would be “hard to envision” Brown playing for the Steelers in 2019. Still, despite hearing Rooney, the de facto boss of the Steelers, indicate that Brown’s career in Pittsburgh was likely over, I, a known Antonio Brown stan and apparent moron, refused to accept that the end was nigh. Surely they can work this out; time heals all wounds, I thought.

Last week, the prophecy that Rooney foretold manifested itself in reality. Brown tweeted a heavy-handed goodbye message, thereby effectively signaling the end of his nine-year run with the Steelers. Keeping in mind that Brown played very sparingly in his rookie season, he’s made seven Pro Bowls and is owner of two of what are statistically the eight or so best seasons for a receiver in league history. He was well on his way to a third all-time great campaign in 2017, but suffered a knee injury in a late-season tilt against New England, which cost him most of the Steelers’ final three games of the regular season (the 1,533 yards he gained in the first 13 games gave him enough of a cushion to sit firmly atop the league’s pinnacle at season’s end). For his career, Brown’s per-game averages are as follows: 6.4 receptions, 86.2 yards, and 0.56 touchdowns; extrapolated to a 16-game schedule, that’s 102 catches, 1,379 yards, and 9 touchdowns. He’s been at this level for nine years. That is a cartoonishly dominate run, and it’s one that’s replete with glistening moments of individual brilliance that will reside in our consciousness long after Brown’s traded or even after he retires: kicking Spencer Lanning in the face during a punt return; jumping crotch-first into the goal post to celebrate his third touchdown of a blowout; the helmet catch against Tennessee; the helmet catch against Baltimore; the Immaculate Extension. And now, pending some miraculous turnaround in the reported pow-wow Brown and Rooney have planned next week, it’s all over.

Stock up: Antonio Brown’s trade prospects

There are many contingencies dictating a potential Brown trade, of course, the most obvious of which being that Brown is currently under contract with the Steelers, and as such the team pretty much holds all the cards in determining where Brown will ply his trade next season. In that spirit, here is a list of considerations the Steelers should keep very close to the chest before pulling the trigger on any trade:

  • Obviously, the Steelers should not trade Brown to a division rival. Any executive from the Steelers who greenlights a trade to Cincinnati, Cleveland, or Baltimore should be cast adrift in a dark sea.
  • Likewise, the Steelers should avoid trading Brown to a contender, particularly one in the AFC. Any executive from the Steelers who greenlights a trade to Kansas City or New England should be thrown headfirst into a volcano.
  • Please do not trade him to the Eagles.
  • Don’t trade him to the Packers, either. I’m not particularly keen on the idea of Brown and Aaron Rodgers instantly becoming the greatest QB/WR duo in league history before a single pass was ever thrown between them.
  • In fact, don’t trade him any place in which his very existence could elevate an already-good offense to historically-dynamic.
  • Accept nothing less than a first-round pick.

That seems like enough. So, having eliminated division rivals, contenders (for the sake of argument, we’ll just eliminate the entire playoff field from last season), teams with really good offenses, and Philadelphia, we’re left with Arizona, Buffalo, Denver, Detroit, Jacksonville, Miami, either New York team, Oakland, San Francisco, and Washington as potential trade destinations for Brown.

Let’s narrow this down a bit more. I cannot realistically envision a scenario in which a team picking in the top 10 trades their selection for a disgruntled 30-year-old wideout (this is partly because NFL many executives place more value on nebulous draft capital than they do on established commodities, which I guess is somewhat defensible when such high picks are involved), so that knocks out everyone except for Oakland, Washington, and Miami. These options seem realistic!

Washington’s owner, the contemptible Dan Snyder, has a well-known penchant for chasing big-name name players, and I have absolutely not a shred of doubt that he’d ship the 15th overall pick in the draft (and possibly more!) to the Steelers to acquire Brown’s rights. The Raiders, meanwhile, hold three of the draft’s first 27 picks, so they can certainly afford to part ways with the selections they received from Dallas and Chicago in the Amari Cooper and Khalil Mack trades. (It may also behoove the Raiders to recruit a player of Brown’s stature to headline their forthcoming transition to Las Vegas.) The Dolphins are interesting because Brown’s from Miami and their receiving corps, as it is currently constructed, is total butt. Danny Amendola somehow led this outfit in receiving last season with an earth-shattering 575 yards. Something called Leonte Carroo played nine games for Miami last season. DeVante Parker, a former top-15 pick, has glass bones. Brown would represent an immediate upgrade and open up the running game for human lightning bolt Kenyan Drake. I could certainly see one of these organizations making a play for Brown.

(Although I specified otherwise in the list of contingencies, it pains me to say that the best option for the Steelers may involve trading Brown to Green Bay, as I’m assuming the Packers may be less reluctant to trade a high pick than the Dolphins, Raiders, and ‘Skins. So long as Aaron Rodgers is under center, the Packers should be considered legitimate Super Bowl contenders, so trading the 11th overall pick for a player who will unquestionably outperform the guy they would’ve taken 11th overall is a no-brainer.)

(But I’m interested in your thoughts, too. For this exercise, let’s put you, the reader, in the shoes of some nameless puppet who nonetheless exerts a substantial amount of control over the decision-making process. You lord over a team that is talented, but whose window will slam all the way shut the very second the franchise quarterback (who may or may not be largely responsible for driving Brown out the door, but I’ll digress) decides to retire. You are responsible for trading a disgruntled but supremely talented and still productive receiver. You do not want to be tossed into a blistering caldera, banished to the sea, or fed to wolves, so you are hellbent on getting a solid return for said receiver. What do you do?)

Stock up: Whoever gets to direct the ESPN 30 for 30 about the Killer B’s

The triumvirate of Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, and Le’Veon Bell was supposed to elevate this iteration of the Steelers to legendary status; the Killer Bs would be the Steel Curtain of the league’s new era. Whereas the latter contingent claimed four Super Bowl titles, the former’s best postseason showing was an appearance in the AFC Championship game, which they lost convincingly to the New England Patriots (who, thanks to the failures of the Killer Bs, have now equaled Pittsburgh’s Super Bowl count). This is hard to think about now; imagine 20 years from now explaining to your next of kin that you bore witness to what was arguably the most compelling era of Steelers football, but that the whole enterprise imploded under the weight of in-fighting and finances. It’s gonna make for one hell of a documentary.

Stock down: JuJu Smith Schuster’s love life

(JuJu is a young, attractive, charismatic, professional athlete; I’m sure he’s doing fine.)

Prospect of the Week: Amani Oruwariye

Life upgrade of the week: Bohemian Rhapsody

Freddie Mercury, inimitable demigod of the iconic rock quartet Queen, died from complications AIDS in 1991. Although Mercury earlier shared his diagnosis with bandmates, close friends, and family, he apparently refrained from going public until the day before he died. Mercury, an outwardly gay man in a time in which being an outwardly gay man was still kinda taboo, kept his diagnosis private so as to avoid being made a posterboy for AIDS, which at the time was still a relatively nascent epidemic and certainly not fully understood by researchers and medical professionals, least of all the general public.

In “Bohemian Rhapsody,” there’s a scene near the end of the movie in which Mercury, played masterfully by Rami Malek, announces his diagnosis to his bandmates. It immediately follows a practice session in the run-up to the 1985 Live Aid concert, which, according to the canon, Queen agreed to play at the last possible second after Mercury re-joined the band following an unsuccessful solo stint. As such, it is heavily implied that the Live Aid show will be Mercury’s final performance. But, they fudged the timeline! Some further reading revealed the Mercury did not come forward to his bandmates until 1988 or 1989, well after the Live Aid performance.

Anyway, if you’re a fan of biopics, this was a decent one. If you go into this movie with the understanding that telling a comprehensive story about what is arguably among the three or five most influential groups in the history of rock music in two hours is veritably impossible and can look past that, I think you’ll enjoy it. Six stars out 10.