clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Antonio Brown Has Officially Requested a Trade. What Happens Next?

The prolific wide receiver just punctuated a bizarre, tumultuous offseason by asking the Steelers to move him. Let’s break down where he could end up—and the factors that complicate the market.

Pittsburgh Steelers v New Orleans Saints Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Now I do what I want
Now I do what I want
Now I do what I want

Those are the lyrics that open the aptly named “Do What I Want” by Lil Uzi Vert, the song that Antonio Brown chose to play over his Instagram video on Tuesday that announced #NewDemands.

“SteelerNation thank you for big 9 years!!! Time to move on and forward.”

Brown has not yet been traded or released despite what the video implies, but he’s officially asked to join another team. Just minutes after Brown’s post, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that in addition to the Instagram and Twitter posts, Antonio Brown had formally requested a trade from Pittsburgh. This new trade request is not to be confused with Brown’s past trade requests, such as his “trade me let’s find out” tweet in September that was aimed at a former Steelers staffer ...

… Or the trade request that may or may not have been shouted at a Steelers practice before Week 17. (Perhaps he used #NewDemands because he had so many #OldDemands.) This is the new, improved trade request, and Brown is hoping that the third time’s a charm. But trading him could be a lot more complicated than his Instagram post makes it seem.

Brown signed a four-year deal worth as much as $68 million, with $19 million guaranteed, in February 2017, and the Steelers restructured it in February 2018 by adding about $13 million of guaranteed money to the deal. The move gave Pittsburgh financial flexibility last season, but it would make trading Brown complicated this offseason. If the team were to trade Brown before June 1 (which would be ideal because they’ll likely want picks in April’s draft in any package), they would still have more than $21 million of dead money on the books from his contract for next season. I’m not an NFL GM, but allocating more than 10 percent of your salary cap to a player on a different team is not great.

It’s this math that made it seem that the Steelers had to figure out a way to make Brown happy. (Plus: Is Pittsburgh going to eat more than $21 million to get rid of the guy who led all receivers in receiving touchdowns and jersey sales?) But the team has wobbled amid the trade winds. Owner Art Rooney II told reporters in January that it would be “hard to envision” Brown reporting at the start of training camp in July. Perhaps, then, the team doesn’t view Brown’s deal as an investment that must be saved, but rather a sunk cost on a 30-year-old receiver that they should move on from sooner rather than later to avoid another Le’Veon Bell situation. If that’s the case, Brown could be traded, and perhaps for a lesser package than expected.

For the team acquiring Brown, his contract is extremely team-friendly: He’ll cost $15.1 million, $11.3 million, and $12.5 million each of the next three years. But trading for Brown is still a risky move. He’s been unpredictable in 2019: Brown’s appeared on Fox’s The Masked Singer, gone on Instagram Live with James Harrison during a press conference in which Mike Tomlin answered questions about his communication with Brown, and grown a bleach blonde mustache that looks like a real-life Photoshop.

But while those could be written off as eccentricities, Brown also faces mounting legal issues. The mother of Brown’s daughter said he pushed her to the ground during a dispute about payment for the daughter’s hair appointment last month, according to a police report of the incident. Brown was not arrested, though the NFL is investigating the incident. One of Brown’s lawyers told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler that the allegations are “baseless and false.” Brown has filed for custody of the daughter.

Brown is also facing a lawsuit in Florida for throwing furniture off of a 14th-floor balcony and nearly hitting a child, according to the suit. And just hours before Brown posted the trade request on social media on Tuesday, he no-showed for a court hearing at which he was found guilty for reckless driving for going more than 100 miles per hour in a 45 mph zone in Pennsylvania. The team that trades for Brown will inherit these issues.

Let’s run through the teams that could acquire him, but first here are a few that probably won’t:

  • If Al Davis were alive, we could ink Brown’s spot on the Raiders roster right now, but it’s unclear whether the wide receiver is #GrudenGrinder material.
  • The Browns would probably be interested, but the Steelers are unlikely to deal Brown within the division.
  • The Patriots are probably also on the Steelers’ No Trade list, so take your Randy Moss comparisons somewhere else.

San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers are projected to have more than $60 million in cap space, according to Spotrac, the seventh most in the league. With Jimmy Garoppolo returning and a young core of players, the 49ers are the rare team at the top of the draft that has plenty of assets and will be looking to make a sharp one-year turnaround to compete, and Brown might be exactly what the team needs on the field. George Kittle was among the best receiving options in the league last year, but Pierre Garçon is a possession receiver who wasn’t healthy in 2018, Marquise Goodwin is more of a burner, downfield option, and while Dante Pettis has shown promise, he’s still young. Brown would take enough attention away from the other options on the field to allow them to flourish while giving Garoppolo the reliable option he has lacked. It might be surprising to see the 49ers make a move for Brown, but not as surprising as trading for a backup quarterback and making him the league’s highest-paid player after just a handful of games. Head coach Kyle Shanahan and GM John Lynch came to the 49ers as a package deal with matching six-year contracts in part to take big decisions together without fearing the fallout.

Indianapolis Colts

The Colts will have the most cap space this offseason (projected at $107.6 million, according to Spotrac), which means they could be a player for anybody in the league. Yet Brown would make more sense in Indy than most of the players associated with the team. After investing heavily in the draft and in free agency the past few years, the Colts are mostly set on the offensive line, at running back (Marlon Mack, Nyheim Hines, and Jordan Wilkins), and at tight end (Eric Ebron, Jack Doyle). But at receiver, the Colts have T.Y. Hilton and a lot of who? in Zach Pascal, Deon Cain, and James Wright. Adding Brown would be the move that could take the offense to the next level. Under Frank Reich, the Colts have retooled around getting the ball out of Andrew Luck’s hands quickly, but until the team has receivers who can get open as quickly as Reich wants Luck to throw it, the offense will struggle to be consistent. Brown is as good at creating immediate separation as anybody, and Indy has the Jets’ second-rounder (no. 34 overall) to spare.

Green Bay Packers

Aaron Rodgers is one of the few quarterbacks who might be better suited to take advantage of Brown’s skill set than Ben Roethlisberger. Rodgers is the most accurate quarterback in the league, and Brown’s sideline receiving is the best in football. Together, they could create impossible-to-defend back-shoulder throws, and the new offense under head coach Matt LaFleur will likely be more diverse than what Mike McCarthy used and (hopefully) will incorporate more of those passes.

The Packers traditionally would never make a deal like this, but general manager Brian Gutekunst signaled by cutting Jordy Nelson and signing Jimmy Graham that the team was willing to take swings, especially to maximize its window to contend with Rodgers. The Packers have their own first-rounder (no. 12 overall) plus an extra first-round pick to play with (no. 30 overall) after acquiring New Orleans’s in a trade last year, which puts them in the small group of teams with both the draft capital to immediately capture Pittsburgh’s attention and the urgency of a team that missed the playoffs when it should be competing for Super Bowls.