A 2018 third-round draft pick. A 2019 third-round draft pick. A 2019 fifth-round draft pick.
When the Steelers traded away two players a year apart who had a total of 99 combined touchdowns, they received a total of three draft picks. Of the picks they received, none were higher than the third round. It seemed to be too little of a return for the loss in production the Steelers experienced. From purely a numbers standpoint, the two trades combined seemed to be heavily in the “loss” category. But did they really work out that way?
At the time, the Steelers seemed to “win” the trade of Martavis Bryant to the Raiders just before the 2018 draft. Between the suspensions and the emergence of other young receivers, the Steelers claimed they would not be trading Bryant until they were given an offer they couldn’t refuse. Acquiring the Raiders third-round draft selection, the Steelers sent Bryant to Oakland for the 79th overall pick in 2018. The Steelers used the pick, along with their seventh-round selection (220th overall) to trade up three spots ahead of the Cincinnati Bengals to select Oklahoma State QB Mason Rudolph.
During the 2018 season, Rudolph failed to be active for a single game as he fulfilled the third quarterback duties. As for Bryant, he appeared in eight games before being placed on injured reserve leading up to yet another suspension for substance abuse. In his time in Oakland, Bryant totaled 266 receiving yards on 19 receptions along with 23 rushing yards on three attempts and he did not score a touchdown.
As for the 2019 trade, the Steelers were forced to deal arguably the best wide receiver in the NFL after a falling out with four-time Pro Bowler Antonio Brown. Rather than rehash the events that led to the trade, the bottom line was the Steelers were only able to salvage a third and fifth round selection from the Oakalnd Raiders in exchange for the disgruntled receiver. With the selections the Steelers acquired, WR Diontae Johnson out of the University of Toledo and TE Zach Gentry from Michigan were taken in the third and fifth rounds respectively.
Of all of the players involved, Martavis Bryant is the one who has actually seen the field with the team he was traded. On the flip-side, Bryant is the only player no longer with said team. At least he’s the only one for now.
With the recent events unfolding in Oakland, there is a high possibility Antonio Brown will be suspended by the Raiders. If so, Oakland could look to void the guaranteed money for the contract they negotiated after his trade, giving the team the option to move on from Brown.
#Raiders WR Antonio Brown and GM Mike Mayock got into it earlier this week, and it got ugly. Mayock clearly frustrated with AB posting his fine letter on Instagram. And now, a suspension for conduct detrimental could mean losing $30M in guaranteed money.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) September 5, 2019
While it is unclear at this time if the Antonio Brown era is over in Oakland before it even started, the fact that it’s even a possibility puts the entire trade in perspective. Since arriving in Oakland, Brown has suffered from frostbitten feet, refused to play unless he was allowed to wear his retired helmet, missed meetings and practices, and yet expects an organization for which he has yet to produce one statistic to let everything slide without consequences.
But enough about what the Steelers lost in these trades. Yes, it feels better when the headaches are someone else’s problem. But whether Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant were All-Pro players or guys who didn’t pan out, ultimately their departure means nothing if the Steelers don’t make the most of the players they received in return. So where do the Steelers stand on their side of the trade?
First of all, the three players drafted with the selections from Oakland all made the Steelers 53-man roster in 2019. Mason Rudolph is back for his second season, this time surpassing Joshua Dobbs as the Steelers back-up quarterback to Ben Roethlisberger. While the goal is for Rudolph to never see the field unless it is a mop-up situation in a game the Steelers have already put away, he is only one play away from being “the guy’ in Pittsburgh. Nobody expected Roethlisberger to be “the guy” either in 2004, but this is the role of the back-up quarterback. Whether or not Rudolph is the next QB to lead the Steelers into the post-Roethlisberger era when Ben decides to hang it up remains to be seen. But, as of now, he has a much better chance than anyone else.
With the first of the two picks the Steelers received for 2019, Diontae Johnson was selected to help bolster the Steelers’ wide receivers room due to the loss of Brown. Battling various injuries throughout the preseason, Johnson’s contributions for 2019 are yet to be determined. While I believed Johnson may not even be active early in the season much like Martavis Bryant’s rookie season, the Steelers chose to only keep five wide receivers on the roster. With all five players most likely dressing for game day, the Steelers may believe Johnson is ready to contribute right out of the gate.
Tight end Zach Gentry was the fifth round selection taken from the final draft pick of the Antonio Brown trade. Considered more of a project tight end, Gentry did make the 53-man roster. Many believe his inclusion was more out of lack of options then earning a spot. But unless the Steelers sign a tight end at some point, Gentry is the third option on game day.
Only time will tell if the Steelers made choices who will eventually have significant roles in the future. At best, the Steelers could have their next franchise quarterback and another dynamic receiver to go with those already on the squad. Throw in a tight end who could develop into the answer at the position in years to come and the Steelers front office would prove yet again they know how to handle sticky situations in the NFL. Expecting all three draft picks to work out for the best case scenario is a little much, but it is just as likely neither player acquired from the Steelers will be in silver and black in 2019. If the Steelers get a serviceable starting quarterback for several years down the road and a dependable receiver, the trade still seems to be worth moving on from two self-destructive players.
Even if none of the Steelers draft picks pan out in the future, many Steelers’ fans believe ridding themselves of the locker-room cancers which were shipped off to Oakland was worth taking a flyer on a few draft picks. Yes, the Antonio Brown story in Oakland is yet to be concluded. But the twists and turns of the drama which has come to this point is something for which the Steelers are grateful that it’s happening 2,500 miles away and not in their own locker room.