Update (5:27 p.m. ET): Brown has agreed to terms with the Patriots, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter. For a few hours, it was fun to imagine an NFL where some other team besides Bill Belichick’s Death Star might get the star wideout, but we live in hell. Brown won’t even be eligible to play the Steelers on Sunday, which was the only thing that could have redeemed this outcome. What a drag!
The Antonio Brown saga feels like it could stretch on until the heat death of the universe, but it will have to continue without the Raiders. Oakland released Brown on Saturday after a wild summer with the wideout that culminated in the Raiders fining him for conduct detrimental to the team on Friday evening in a move that will void his $29.1 million in guaranteed money (pending arbitration). Now the superstar wideout is looking for a new home:
Drew Rosenhaus: “Now that Antonio is a free agent, we are focused on the future and I will immediately work on signing him to a new team. Antonio is looking forward to a new beginning.”— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) September 7, 2019
So where could he land? Will anyone sign him after all the drama this offseason? It’s worth remembering that Brown is the best receiver of his generation, and that even in a “down” 2018 with Pittsburgh he posted 104 receptions, 1,297 yards, and 15 touchdowns. Brown has the talent to transform any offense he’s on—some team will take a chance on him.
Keeping in mind that virtually every team could use one of the best receivers ever seen in the league, here are the eight landing spots that, through a combination of team need, past history, and cap situations, seem the most likely:
On paper, Brown is a perfect fit for the Seahawks. After the team cut longtime receiver Doug Baldwin this offseason, they head into 2019 with Tyler Lockett as their no. 1 receiver and no clear no. 2 behind him. Lockett—who was the league’s most efficient wideout in 2018—is a capable top receiver for a Seahawks team that wants to focus on the run, but the Seahawks could use a boost.
After Lockett, the Seahawks have rookie D.K. Metcalf and career journeyman Jaron Brown. Metcalf isn’t likely to be an immediate star: The receiver possesses incredible straight-line speed and physical talent, but his game is raw and he’ll likely need time to adjust to the league, as most wideouts do. Additionally, Metcalf had a knee surgery in August, and while he’s set to play in Week 1, Seattle will likely limit his snaps. Meanwhile Jaron Brown has never eclipsed 500 yards receiving in his six-season career. With Russell Wilson entering his age-31 season, the Seahawks should be doing everything they can to maximize their star quarterback’s prime and add another Super Bowl ring to his hand. Right now, Wilson could use some more firepower to work with.
Also relevant: The Seahawks play the Steelers in Pittsburgh in Week 2.
New England Patriots
Bill Belichick loves to gamble on cheap veterans, and Brown may be relatively inexpensive after his tumultuous summer, something his agent has already hinted at:
.@RosenhausSports on @NFLNetwork: “We’re going to have to see what the market is. When you’re a free agent, it’s not always what you expect. It’s what the market is. Of course, my job as an agent is to always get the best contracts for my clients. That’s no different here."— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) September 7, 2019
Sometimes New England’s veteran additions haven’t worked out (see: Haynesworth, Albert), but sometimes the Pats strike gold (see: Moss, Randy). With Julian Edelman and Josh Gordon at wideout and pass-catching back James White in the backfield, the Patriots don’t have as large of a need for Brown as some of the other teams on this list, but he’d fit New England’s pattern of buying low on talent. Unfortunately, even if the Pats signed Brown immediately, he wouldn’t be eligible to play in the team’s Sunday Night Football matchup against the Steelers.
If the Patriots can get Brown on the field and also convince Rob Gronkowski to come back, just ship the Lombardi trophy to Foxborough and cancel the season. I quit.
New Orleans Saints
After Michael Thomas, the Saints’ next wide receivers are Ted Ginn Jr. and Tre’Quan Smith, two players who combined for fewer than 700 yards last season. While New Orleans can use Alvin Kamara as a receiver and added tight end Jared Cook in the offseason, the team could certainly use someone of Brown’s caliber.
While New Orleans has shifted away from its ultra-pass-heavy roots under head coach Sean Payton to fielding a more balanced attack over the past two seasons, Brown’s addition could put this team over the top. Drew Brees is 40 years old and New Orleans has earned first-round byes in each of the past two years, giving the team every reason to prioritize its short-term future in the hopes of winning a Super Bowl immediately. The Saints have the least cap space in the NFL, so they’d have to either make some cap magic happen or sign Brown to an incredibly cheap contract, but this marriage makes too much on-field sense to ignore.
San Francisco 49ers
Jimmy Garoppolo’s current no. 1 wideout Dante Pettis received mixed reviews in training camp, and the team will likely continue to lean on tight end George Kittle as its top pass-catcher this season. The Niners are also apparently on Brown’s radar, with the wide receiver telling Jerry Rice back in February, before he was traded to Oakland, that he wanted to play in San Francisco:
"I would love to come to San Francisco..."— Kevin Boilard (@247KevinBoilard) September 7, 2019
Here's what @JerryRice told me @AB84 said to him about wanting to play for the #49ers.
The Niners are currently looking for a No. 1 WR... pic.twitter.com/9Vor62TrKX
Brown even posted about the 49ers on his Instagram before he was traded:
AB making it perfectly clear where he wants to end up pic.twitter.com/Ux8rRYIhZq— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) January 25, 2019
It’s not confirmed that he tried to slide into the team’s DMs, but that can’t be ruled out. Additionally, this match would work out logistically: Brown is right across the Bay.
It would be perfect if Brown joined the Steelers’ most bitter divisional rival. Even more perfect: Brown’s cousin, Marquise Brown, was the Ravens’ first-round draft pick in April.
Baltimore is expected to operate the most run-heavy offense in the league. That could make the Ravens less likely to take a chance on Brown, but having a superstar receiver on the field drawing defensive attention would make their smashmouth offense easier to run. Their current receiver corps of Marquise Brown, Willie Snead, and Myles Boykin won’t draw the same coverage or be nearly as reliable for Lamar Jackson.
Washington should probably focus on figuring out its future with left tackle Trent Williams, who is refusing to play for the Redskins because he felt the team mishandled a recent medical situation, instead of trying to bring in Brown. In any case, the Redskins have one of the worst rosters in football, and a 31-year-old wideout isn’t going to improve their chances of winning in the short-term. But Dan Snyder still owns the team, and that’s all that really needs to be said. Plus, if Brown wants to stick it to Jon Gruden, there are few better ways to do that than by joining his little brother Jay Gruden in Washington.
Just kidding. But could you imagine if this entire saga was all just one big long con?
I doubt that Vince McMahon’s Make Football Great Again League, which is slated to kick off in 2020, will be handing out much guaranteed money. But maybe an ownership stake or some other incentive could convince Brown to join the startup. Kicking off a football league and trying to compete with the NFL is incredibly difficult—just ask the AAF—but after his antics this offseason, Brown would immediately generate interest for the XFL. And temperamentally, Brown and the XFL just feel right for each other.