With owner Art Rooney II declaring he was prepared to move disgruntled receiver Antonio Brown, the Steelers front office is beginning initial preparation into a potential blockbuster trade, sources said, one that team officials anticipate includes a first-round pick.
With the Cowboys dealing a first-round pick for Amari Cooper in-season, and with Brown's salary a bargain the final three years of his contract ($39M total in that span at a time when top receivers are pushing $18M per season), it is a very easy contract to deal and, as previously reported, the Steelers believe they can easily offset the $21M salary cap hit attached to any trade of the perennial All Pro.
While Brown is older than other options (he'll turn 31 this summer), he remains one of the NFL's true game-changers. He puts up 100 catches a season, he scored 15 touchdown this season in what was a transition year for the Steelers offense with no Le'Veon Bell, and though he is prone to personality conflicts and outlandish behavior, there is intense interest in his services in other front offices, with trade talks expected to begin at the NFL combine.
The Steelers expect a robust market to form, and expect to hear from teams like the Seahawks, Colts, Saints, 49ers, Packers, and Eagles. Team sources said that while they expect the Ravens, Browns and Patriots to have significant interest in Brown as well, there is virtually no chance they would deal him to such a rival.
There is still some chance the Steelers and Browns reverse course, however remote, but it would have to begin with the player taking a contrite attitude and being willing to mend fences with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and coach Mike Tomlin; his relationship with both is shattered, team sources said. Brown's decision to go AWOL in Week 17 and then request a trade clearly upset Rooney, but it is Brown's actions since then that have heightened the situation, team sources said. Brown has rebuffed multiple phone calls from the owner and repeated attempts to contact him by Tomlin and members of the front office, as well.
It certainly looks like the Steelers will be without both Bell and Brown in 2019. The Steelers are still seriously considering a franchise or transition tag for Bell – even if only to facilitate a trade – and they stand to have considerable payroll flexibility if both are gone. The team will attempt to negotiate a contract extension with Roethlisberger this offseason.