Update: Antonio Brown has signed a one-year, $15 million contract with the New England Patriots.
I didn’t think there was any way the Seattle Seahawks would trade for Jadeveon Clowney or any way that the Oakland Raiders would release Antonio Brown, but that’s the kind of offseason predicting I’ve had so far I guess. Because on Saturday morning, after weeks of what felt like overblown “news” on helmets and disagreements between Brown and the Raiders, Oakland officially released the star receiver and set him free.
Brown is now a free agent having played zero games for the Raiders — a team that gave up a third and fifth round pick to acquire him, then paid him a contract extension with $30 million “guaranteed” — and it’s unclear what sort of teams will short interest and how much it will cost.
Oakland is not expected be on the hook for any of Brown’s contract and will save the entire $30 million with no dead cap barring Brown appealing and winning a case in arbitration. That part is not nearly settled, but Brown is absolutely a free agent.
If AB wins his grievance against the Raiders, he would count over a whopping $50,000,000 this year in dead money for 2 teams! Oak - $29,125,000 and Pit - $21,120,000!— Mike Tannenbaum (@RealTannenbaum) September 7, 2019
One team that has shown up as the most popular in speculation as to a next destination has been the New England Patriots. Given Bill Belichick’s nature for not only embracing stars with egos that didn’t work out elsewhere (Randy Moss also escaped the Raiders before going to New England, plus Josh Gordon, Darrelle Revis, and others) and then getting to Super Bowls with said acquisitions, it seems plausible.
And if the Patriots would do it, the Seahawks might do it too.
A couple days ago I mentioned that the move made “some sense” for Seattle. They could have a need at receiver, as Brown is .... hmmm .... what’s the right word .... a “notable” upgrade on the field over Jaron Brown. Antonio is a first ballot Hall of Famer given how dominant he’s been to his peers in most receiving categories over the last six seasons. He’d also at this point be coming at Pete Carroll and John Schneider’s favorite thing: a discount. Brown would cost way below market value, similar to getting Jadeveon Clowney for a very modest trade package and less than $10 million out of their own pockets.
Now that Brown is a free agent and coming off of a disastrous relationship, I can’t imagine his next deal will be close to $30 million guaranteed. Antonio may need to prove a lot in 2019 just to be able to stay in the league in 2020.
Just as Clowney changed the entire outlook and makeup of the defense, it’s hard to no imagine an offense that features Russell Wilson, behind the best offensive line he’s ever had on paper (Duane Brown, Mike Iupati, Justin Britt, DJ Fluker, Germain Ifedi), throwing to a duo of Tyler Lockett and Antonio Brown, with D.K. Metcalf, John Ursua, and David Moore ready when the team is ready for them. Receiver has often been listed as one of the positions that takes the longest to adjust to the NFL level and Seattle is carrying three rookie receivers and a fourth, Malik Turner, who might as well be.
In the game of football it makes sense.
If you believe that team chemistry and locker room atmosphere are real and integral, then it’s a risk. Consider this:
The Pittsburgh Steelers were two-time Super Bowl champions with Ben Roethlisberger and went to a third Super Bowl when Antonio Brown was a rookie who barely played. At that time, Ben and Mike Tomlin were nearly as dominant as a stretch of New England’s run, having gone to three Super Bowls in six years with two rings. It was the next year, 2011, that Antonio first established himself as a possible number one receiver. The team went 12-4 and got knocked out in the wild card round.
They missed the playoffs in each of the next two years. In 2014, the Steelers went 11-5, were knocked out in the wild card. In 2015, they beat A.J. McCarron and the Bengals in the wild card round by two points, lost in the division. In 2016, they went 11-5, beat a Miami Dolphins team that I completely forgot made the postseason recently, beat a pre-Mahomes Kansas City Chiefs team, and got blown out in the AFC Championship. In 2017, they got a first round bye and then lost to the Jacksonville Jaguars. In 2018, they missed the playoffs again.
So three Super Bowls in six years was followed up by zero Super Bowls and many early exits over the next eight despite “adding” a Hall of Fame receiver who has caught at least 100 passes in six straight seasons. Why didn’t Brown seem to make the Steelers better?
That’s a question that many will wrangle with as Brown begins searching for a new home. It’s similar to the one of Jimmy Graham, who helped revolutionize the tight end position with the New Orleans Saints. But the Saints won the Super Bowl in 2009, drafted Graham in 2010, and never came close to returning to the Super Bowl in the five years with him, posting two losing seasons. Having added Graham — who I’m not comparing to Brown as a person, just as an example of how adding a star doesn’t always help — Seattle saw their dynasty hopes crumble rather than blossom.
Not saying it’s directly related to Graham, but “Did they get better?” is undeniably “No.”
At this point it seems that most people would say that Brown won’t make an NFL team better, that he’s clearly too big of a distraction and a headache. But unlike some others who’ve been labeled this way, Brown is not going to be blackballed from the league. He’s going to find a job. Will it be with the Seahawks? At the very least, we’d assume that Schneider has been scouting that possibility for a few days.
What happens next — Don’t ask me to predict that. I’ll surely be incorrect.