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The Raiders Won the Antonio Brown Trade Sweepstakes. What Are the Ramifications?

After a prolonged offseason saga, Pittsburgh is sending the prolific wide receiver to the Raiders. Let’s break down what the trade means for both franchises.

Los Angeles Chargers v Pittsburgh Steelers
Antonio Brown
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Antonio Brown is the newest Gruden Grinder. Brown, a.k.a. Tony Toe Tap, a.k.a. Mr. Big Chest, is heading to the Raiders in exchange for third- and fifth-round draft picks. The move was first reported by … Antonio Brown, who tweeted and Instagrammed an edited photo of himself wearing a Raiders jersey in the wee hours of Sunday morning.

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☠️☠️☠️ #raidernation

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Brown had said repeatedly in his social media blitzkrieg that he wanted guaranteed money added to his deal, and ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that the Raiders offered him a raise of $30.1 million in guaranteed money. Brown’s deal could reportedly go as high as $54.1 million with incentives over the next three years. In Pittsburgh, the wideout was due $38.9 million over the next three years, and none of it was guaranteed. Brown and his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, took on the Steelers and won.

Let’s break down what this trade means for both sides.

The Steelers Get Little in Exchange for a Future Hall of Famer

Let’s recap for a moment who Pittsburgh just lost. Brown is a future Hall of Famer who is building a case to be on the wide receiver Mount Rushmore. He’ll turn 31 in July, but hasn’t showed any signs of slowing down. Last year he led the NFL in receiving touchdowns (15); in 2017 he led the league in receiving yards (1,533). As Football Perspective’s Chase Stuart pointed out, Brown’s 9,145 receiving yards over the last six seasons are the most that any player has compiled over any six-year stretch ever. He’s a legendary route runner who makes catches like this seem routine.

In exchange for Brown, the Steelers will get third- and fifth-round draft picks. To put that in perspective, last offseason the Raiders sent Pittsburgh a third-round pick to land receiver Martavis Bryant, and sent the Bills a fifth-round pick to acquire backup quarterback AJ McCarron.

And not only are the Steelers losing perhaps the best receiver in football for an underwhelming return, but they’re also mangling their cap flexibility to do so. The Steelers restructured Brown’s contract last year to stretch out his cap hit across three seasons. By trading him, that strategy has backfired, as they’re again due one massive hit in 2019: They will eat $21.1 million in dead money, or roughly 10 percent of their cap, for Brown to line up on another roster. Pittsburgh’s strategy of not guaranteeing player salaries in future seasons gives the franchise a lot of cap flexibility in the short term, but can become a huge issue when one of those players forces his way out.

Brown should thank Le’Veon Bell, whose holdout last season created such a fracas around Pittsburgh that the idea of a similar saga hanging over the 2019 season apparently convinced the Steelers brass that dumping Brown for the no. 66 and no. 141 picks in this spring’s draft was worth it. Brown’s nonstop publicity tour, his comments about Ben Roethlisberger, and his refusal to commit to the Bills (for whom a deal for the receiver fell through on Friday) facilitated a trade to a destination that he clearly wants to go to.

Now Bell and Brown are both gone from the Steelers, and so is the Killer B’s non-dynasty. The mantle falls on receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster to be next.

The Raiders Landed a Prolific Wideout on the Cheap

Is it time to admit that Jon Gruden is a smart GM? Sure, former NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock now holds that title for the franchise, but Gruden has final say in these decisions, just as he did when Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper were dealt. From the Raiders standpoint, this move is a home run so long as Brown does not feud with quarterback Derek Carr and poison the team’s chemistry. (OK, that’s definitely on the table.) Brown may be nearing the end of his apex, but he remains a top-three route runner in football, and guys with his skill set often age well (unlike, say, Dez Bryant). And the Raiders could certainly use him: They finished last season ranked 25th in Football Outsiders’ DVOA, barely ahead of bottom-feeders like the 49ers, Jets, Bills, and Cardinals. Brown instantly changes that outlook.

Still, it’s worth noting the potential downsides to this deal. First, there are Brown’s legal issues to consider. He was involved in a domestic dispute in January and faces two lawsuits that say he nearly hit a child while throwing furniture off a 14th-floor balcony at his South Florida apartment. It remains to be seen how these cases will be resolved.

Second, Brown could conceivably clash with Gruden and make life as trying for the Raiders as he made it for the Steelers. Remember, this fiasco started in Week 17, when the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that Brown, who sat out of Pittsburgh’s matchup against the Bengals with a listed knee injury, was actually healthy and missed the game because he skipped the team’s practice that week after feuding with Roethlisberger. Brown and Gruden will likely be chummy over the summer, but how they handle each other’s strong personalities when the going gets tough is yet to be seen.

Pittsburgh fans, who are likely somewhere between anger and bargaining in the five stages of grief, may have reached the point where they are willing to get rid of Brown for anything. Yet it nonetheless seems wild that mere months after the Raiders traded away Cooper for a first-round pick, they secured the best receiver of the decade for a fraction of that cost. As they prepare to move to Las Vegas, they suddenly have a new face of the franchise.