Agent's Take: Answers to the five Antonio Brown questions everyone's been asking
What can the Steelers expect to get for Brown? Where will he likely go? Here are answers to those questions and more
Some clarity was brought to the Antonio Brown saga this week. The five-time All-Pro wide receiver posted on Twitter after he and his agent Drew Rosenhaus met with Steelers president Art Rooney II, VP/GM Kevin Colbert and VP of football and business administration Omar Khan that both sides agreed "it is time to move on." This development paves the way for Brown to be traded.
The Steelers confirmed as much a day later, sayingbut not at a discount, and reportedly telling Brown to stop hurting his trade value.
Brown's relationship with the Steelers began to unravel in the days leading up to the regular-season finale against the Bengals. Brown going AWOL after a practice incident with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger prompted head coach Mike Tomlin to bench him even though the game had playoff implications. Shortly thereafter, Rooney said it was "hard to envision" Brown returning next season although releasing the seven-time Pro Bowler wasn't an option.
The meeting caps an eventful last few days where Brown took to social media to try to pressure the Steelers into dealing him. Brown held a question and answer session on Twitter over the weekend in which he expressed his frustration with Roethlisberger and Tomlin. According to Brown, Roethlisberger has an owner mentality. Brown pushed back on Tomlin, accusing him of quitting on the team in Week 17. Brown insisted that he wasn't healthy. He took things a step further Monday night in an Instagram video where he reiterated his desire to be traded while also demanding guaranteed money.
With a divorce between Brown and the Steelers seeming inevitable, here are answers to the most frequently asked questions about his situation.
What's the timing of a trade?
The Steelers reportedly haven't been actively shopping Brown to other teams. The NFL combine, which begins Feb. 26, is a great opportunity for the Steelers to gauge trade interest.
The Steelers are completely in control of the trade process, as Rosenhaus hasn't been granted permission to speak to other teams. Practically speaking, Rosenhaus is likely to going raise Brown in conversations when meeting with other teams about his impending free agents at the combine. These types of meetings routinely occur although they're prohibited by NFL rules. Teams are rarely penalized for tampering.
A trade can't be executed until the first day of the 2019 league year on March 13 at 4 p.m. ET. Teams can agree on a deal before then. For example, the Ravens agreed last week to trade quarterback Joe Flacco to the Broncos for a 2019 fourth-round pick.
March 17 is a soft deadline for a trade. That's when Brown's $2.5 million fifth day of the league year roster bonus is due.
What are the financial ramifications of trading Brown?
Brown signed a four-year, $68 million contract extension containing a $19 million signing bonus in February 2017, which made him the NFL's highest-paid wide receiver. The Steelers restructured Brown's contract last March by converting $12.96 million of his 2018 salary into signing bonus to create salary cap room.
Brown has three years left on his contract for $38.925 million. None of the money is guaranteed. He is scheduled to make $15.125 million in 2019, which includes the $2.5 million roster bonus. In 2020 and 2021, his salaries are $11.3 million and $12.5 million.
Brown currently has the NFL's largest 2019 cap number for a wide receiver at $22.165 million, partially thanks to last year's restructure. The Steelers would have a $21.12 million cap charge by trading Brown before he earns his $2.5 million roster bonus on March 17. The $21.12 million would be signing bonus proration relating to the $19 million signing bonus originally in the extension and the $12.96 million signing bonus from last year's restructure.
The Steelers would save $1.045 million on the 2019 salary cap but would have an expenditure trying to find Brown's replacement. His $18.34 million and $19.54 million cap charges in 2020 and 2021 would come off Pittsburgh's books. The Steelers would also be saving $38.925 million in cash since Brown's remaining salaries would become the responsibility of the acquiring team.
There's something called a post-June 1 designation available to teams which allows the bonus proration in future contract years to be delayed until the next league year, beginning in the following March. The post-June 1 designation is only available when a team releases a player. It isn't applicable to trades.
What can the Steelers expect to get for Brown?
Based strictly on Brown's football exploits, the Steelers should be able to get at least a first-round pick in return from him. The Cowboys acquired wide receiver Amari Cooper, who has yet to demonstrate that he is the same caliber of player as Brown, from the Raiders for their 2019 first-round pick (27th overall) last October. Percy Harvin was dealt at the start of free agency in 2013 to the Seahawks from the Vikings for a 2013 first-round pick (25th overall), a 2013 seventh-round pick and a 2014 third-round pick. Harvin was never selected to the Pro Bowl or received All-Pro honors for his receiving skills during his career.
Brown's production is unmatched. He is the only player in NFL history to have six-straight seasons with at least 100 receptions. Since the start of the 2013 season, Brown leads the NFL in receptions (686), receiving yards (9,145) and touchdown catches (67). Brown, who turns 31 in July, had a down 2018 season by his standards. He caught 104 passes for 1,297 yards with a league-leading 15 touchdowns through the air.
Conventional wisdom suggests that a perception of Brown quitting on the Steelers, his social media antics and a recent incident with the mother of one of his children will negatively affect his trade value. There is plenty of speculation that the Steelers may not be able to get more than a third-round pick because of Brown's baggage.
Brown demanding that his contract be addressed complicates matters. It may be just as big, if not a bigger, stumbling block than Brown's antics. Brown didn't specify his financial demands. An insistence that the remainder of Brown's contract be fully guaranteed where his compensation is adjusted to reflect changes in the wide receiver market since he last signed wouldn't be surprising.
The current standard is Odell Beckham, Jr.'s five-year, $90 million extension (worth as much as $95 million through salary escalators) he received from the Giants last preseason. Beckham's $65 million in overall guarantees is the most ever in wide receiver contract. $40.959 million was fully guaranteed at signing. The five-year extension Mike Evans signed with the Buccaneers last March averaging $16.5 million per year has the best three-year cash flow in a wide receiver contract at $55.008 million.
It's hard to reconcile that the Steelers might not be able to get as much or not much more for arguably the game's best wide receiver than Martavis Bryant and Golden Tate went for in trades last year. The Eagles sent a 2019 third-round pick to the Lions as the late October trading deadline was approaching for Tate, who is expected to signing elsewhere next month in free agency, making him a very short-term rental.
The Raiders gave the Steelers a 2018 third-round pick for Bryant, who had been previously suspended one year for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy. Bryant's inability to develop into a consistent receiving threat opposite Brown ultimately led him to getting benched in 2017 for JuJu Smith-Schuster when he was a rookie. Bryant was suspended indefinitely last December for another drug policy infraction.
It should be noted that the Raiders got only a 2007 fourth-round pick from the Patriots during a draft day trade for Randy Moss. The first-ballot Hall of Famer was coming off two lackluster seasons in Oakland, where his effort and commitment to football had been questioned.
What teams could be interested in Brown?
The Steelers reportedly aren't going to entertain trade offers from the other teams in the AFC North. The same is true for the Super Bowl LIII champion Patriots.
Brown's preferred destination appears to be the 49ers. He has been openly flirting with San Francisco on social media. The 49ers have a glaring need at wide receiver but are picking second overall in the 2019 NFL Draft. Even if the Steelers are able to get trade compensation commensurate with Brown's talent, a team parting with an early first round pick to get him would be a major surprise. The Cardinals and Jets, who have the first- and third-overall picks, are in the same boat as the 49ers in this regard.
The Raiders may be best positioned to obtain Brown from a draft capital standpoint because of three 2019 first-round picks (fourth, 24th and 27th overall). It would be a nice upgrade at wide receiver for the Raiders to turn the 27th pick gotten for Cooper into Brown.
The Packers are the only other team with multiple 2019 first-round picks, owning the 12th and 30th (from the Saints) selections. One problem with the Packers is how they structure veteran contracts, which is just like Pittsburgh. The only real guaranteed money is signing bonus. The lone exception is quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
The Colts, who have the 26th overall pick, are projected to have the NFL's most salary cap room at right around $110 million. Another wide receiver to pair with T.Y. Hilton is a practically a necessity. Colts general manager Chris Ballard seems to place some significance on character and locker room chemistry, which could cut against making a run at Brown.
The Bills, who lack weapons in the passing game, should have in the neighborhood of $80 million of cap space. Parting with the ninth-overall pick to get Brown is probably a lot more than Buffalo would be willing to give.
What if there is a soft trade market?
The Steelers might be willing to eat the $2.5 million by paying Brown's roster bonus with a slow-to-develop trade market. The next best opportunity to trade Brown would be in connection with the draft held in late April. Pittsburgh's cap charge for trading Brown under this timeframe would be $23.62 million instead of $21.12 million. The acquiring team would be picking up the $36.425 million of salary of Brown's contract running through the 2021 season.
It remains to be seen how long Pittsburgh would hold onto Brown before pulling the trigger on a trade with unsatisfactory offers. By keeping Brown past June 1, Pittsburgh would take Brown's cap hit over two years since the signing bonus proration from 2020 and 2021 would be a cap charge next year. In this case, Pittsburgh would pick up $12.625 of cap room this year, which would be the same as Brown's remaining 2019 salary. There would be a $14.08 million cap charge for Brown in 2020.
Brown probably wouldn't take too kindly to Pittsburgh "holding him hostage" in hopes of better a better deal as training camp approached or even into the preseason, since he made his desire for a change of scenery clear. He would likely up the ante on his social media efforts to try to accelerate his departure.
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