Antonio Brown is a Raider. Let that sink in for a moment.
Imagine telling a Steelers fan in December that Brown wouldn't be playing in Pittsburgh in 2019. Imagine telling them Brown — one of the best receivers of all-time — would be traded for just a third- and fifth-round pick in this year's NFL Draft.
Imagine saying Brown would also get a significant raise (reports are his new contract is for three years and $50.125 million with a maximum value of $54.125 million, including $30.125 million guaranteed). And the kicker is the Steelers now have $21.1 million in dead money on their 2019 salary cap, according to reports.
And imagine telling Fantasy players Brown would be on a team that hasn't produced a wide receiver season with more than 739 yards since 2016.
Wow. Just wow.
But here we are after Brown grew unhappy with the Steelers, unhappy with Ben Roethlisberger and wanted out. The divorce was ugly when he reportedly quit on the Steelers in Week 17 and didn't play in the season finale -- a game with playoff implications. He then expressed his frustrations with the team on social media and TV interviews, and the Steelers decided it was time to move on.
There was a reported trade with Buffalo on Thursday night that fell apart before the official trade to the Raiders, and now we'll see if coach Jon Gruden and quarterback Derek Carr can keep Brown playing at a high level. That's the biggest concern for Fantasy players.
Brown, who will be 31 in July, has six consecutive seasons of at least 101 catches. He has at least 1,284 yards in every season over that span, and only once in those six years has he scored fewer than 10 touchdowns (nine in 2017).
In 2018, Brown had 104 catches for 1,297 yards and a career-best 15 touchdowns on 168 targets. Clearly, even at 30, he's still a dominant force. But will that be the case with the Raiders?
Gruden, who came out of broadcast booth in 2018 to coach the Raiders for the second time in his career, has done well with receivers. In 12 years as a head coach, he has 10 seasons where a receiver has reached at least 1,000 yards and six touchdowns.
Now, that wasn't the case in 2018, where he failed to make things work with Amari Cooper and eventually traded him to Dallas for a first-round pick. Gruden's best receiver last season was Jordy Nelson, who only had 63 catches for 739 yards and three touchdowns on 88 targets.
Carr also has had previous success with receivers in his career prior to 2018. In 2016, Cooper had 83 catches for 1,153 yards and five touchdowns on 132 targets, and Michael Crabtree had 89 catches for 1,003 yards and eight touchdowns on 145 targets. And in 2015, Cooper had 72 catches for 1,070 yards and six touchdowns on 130 targets, and Crabtree had 85 catches for 922 yards and nine touchdowns on 146 targets.
Brown has obviously proven to be a superior talent to Cooper and Crabtree in his career, but we'll see how he does without Ben Roethlisberger. The results haven't been great so far in his career.
But missing a game here or there without Roethlisberger and adjusting to a backup is different than playing with Carr for a full season. And the best way to view Brown is as a low-end No. 1 receiver worth drafting in Round 2.
He's no longer a top-five Fantasy receiver coming into this season, and he could easily be considered a bust candidate. But the Raiders made this move to feature Brown in their offense, and he should still command about 150 targets, with the chance to get at least 80-plus catches, 1,000-plus yards and eight-plus touchdowns.
As for Carr, he moves from being undraftable in all leagues to someone you can consider with a late-round pick. He's still a No. 2 Fantasy quarterback, but Brown's addition could make him a streaming option, especially in deeper leagues.
Roethlisberger is the biggest Fantasy loser in this trade because being without Brown is a significant downgrade. He goes from a surefire No. 1 Fantasy quarterback to a high-end No. 2 option, though he's still worth drafting with a late-round pick.
We'll see what the Steelers do to replace Brown, but Roethlisberger can't remain a high-level Fantasy option with just JuJu Smith-Schuster as his top receiver. Hopefully, the Steelers focus on receiver during free agency and the NFL Draft.
For Smith-Schuster, he was already considered a No. 1 Fantasy receiver prior to this trade. Last year, he finished as the No. 8 PPR receiver with 111 catches for 1,426 yards and seven touchdowns on 166 targets. He was a sophomore sensation, and he was nearly a better Fantasy option than Brown. The only difference was the touchdowns.
But now Smith-Schuster has to continue his success without Brown. That means more attention from opposing defenses and likely more double teams.
It will be an adjustment, but he also should continue to enhance his game heading into his third season in the NFL. We've already seen Smith-Schuster improve from Year 1 (58 catches for 917 yards and seven touchdowns) to Year 2, and we're anxiously awaiting his performance in Year 3.
I asked Smith-Schuster during an appearance at Super Bowl LIII if he's ready to be the No. 1 receiver should Brown leave, and he's not afraid of being in that position as the go-to option for Roethlisberger.
"Obviously, being the No. 1 guy, I'm going to embrace that, taking that role," Smith-Schuster said. "It's going to be unbelievable. It's going to be an honor."
He also had a message for Fantasy players to expect big things:
"In 2019, to all the Fantasy fans out there that's going to pick me, I love you guys," he said. "I appreciate you. I'm going to put up big numbers this year."
Smith-Schuster is now worth drafting in Round 2 in all formats.
And depending on what the Steelers do to replace Brown, one option to take a step forward could be second-year receiver James Washington. As a rookie in 2018, Washington had only 16 catches for 217 yards and a touchdown on 38 targets, but his role will clearly expand if he ends up as Brown's replacement. Washington will likely be a popular sleeper in all formats this summer.
The Steelers will look different in 2019 with Brown gone, and Le'Veon Bell isn't coming back either. We'll see where Bell ends up playing next year, and the Steelers already have his replacement in James Conner.
For Brown, he got what he wanted. He's out of Pittsburgh. He got paid. And now he has to perform at a high level without Roethlisberger and with Carr and Gruden.
He's a Raider. Imagine that.
Dave Richard adds ...
Playing for the Raiders and catching passes from Carr isn't the worst thing in the world for Brown. Remember, he was nearly moved to the BIlls, and was rumored to be close to going to Washington. It could have been a lot worse.
In Carr's five seasons he's meshed with a receiver to over 1,000 yards three times and thrown at least seven scores in a year to a wideout four times. It provides some hope for Brown to reach at least those marks in 2019.
It's also worth noting that Carr was one of only two quarterbacks to finish in the top-six in all of Pro Football Focus' signature metrics (deep balls, adjusted completion, passing under pressure) last year.
You already know Brown has had over 100 receptions in six straight seasons (with a 67 percent catch rate) with at least 1,250 yards in each of those campaigns (13.3 yards per reception). Whereas the Raiders lost faith in Amari Cooper last year before trading him, they've hitched their wallet to Brown and have to make him a consistent part of the offense. Oakland was one of maybe three realistic destinations where Brown was a cinch to get over 120 targets. I would expect closer to 150, especially since the Raiders defense isn't expected to keep the team in a bunch of close, low-scoring games.
Jon Gruden's M.O. is to hammer defenses with shorter, high-percentage throws and have receivers make a play after the catch. Brown did plenty of that in Pittsburgh and can do the same in Oakland. Carr's a good enough quarterback to get the ball into Brown's hands six or seven times per game, and Brown's definitely a good enough receiver to make one or two of those plays special.
For Brown, a line with 1,200 yards and eight touchdowns is absolutely on the table. He's not a Round 1 Fantasy receiver anymore, but I am warm to the idea of getting him in the back end of Round 2 to be my No. 1 wideout, especially after I take a stud rusher in Round 1 and can pick up another good player in early Round 3.