Finally, the saga is over. Although dwarfed by that of his now former teammate Le’Veon Bell, the Antonio Brown storyline was becoming tedious. It is now over, with “Mr Big Chest” now confirmed as an Oakland Raider, joining up with Jon “Chucky” Gruden.
Let’s start with the trade details. Oakland receive arguably the best receiver in the game and in doing so, give up a third and fifth round draft pick. That is the definition of a no-brainer for the Raiders. In the last year Gruden and co have made some highly questionable moves.
The trade of Khalil Mack to the Bears can easily be described as one of the worst in NFL history and the trade of Amari Cooper to the Cowboys did not leave a good taste in the mouths of Raider Nation, despite them getting a first rounder in return. Upon being traded to the Raiders, Brown received a new contract to the tune of $50 million over three years, seeing his guaranteed money go from zero to $30 million.
Is he worth it? Let’s take a closer look.
Despite having what some would describe as a “down” year for him, Brown still racked up 104 catches for 1,297 yards last year, a year in which he tallied a career high and league leading 15 touchdowns. In 2017, he grabbed 101 receptions for a mammoth 1,533 yards and 9 touchdowns. Between 2013 and 2016, he averaged 120 catches, 1,579 yards and 11 touchdowns. Yes, you read that correctly – he AVERAGED those numbers.
Since coming into the league in 2010 he ranks 1st in receptions (837), 1st in yards (11,207) and 1st in touchdowns (74). Without question, those are the numbers of a bona fide superstar. The loss of Cooper was a painful one for Raider Nation to swallow but Brown is far superior. Fans of all teams are excited by superstar players and Brown most certainly fits that bill.
After the disastrous moves last year that cast huge doubts over the initially triumphant return of Gruden, this is a big win for the Raiders on the face of it. Mike Mayock, the new Oakland GM, has to take credit also.
Mayock has a strong reputation as a draft guru after his long time working for NFL Network and it has to excite the Raiders that he didn’t have to give up a single one of his three first round picks to get Brown. The Raiders have a massive ten picks in the draft and four of them are in the top 35, which will be hugely important as it is clear that Brown is by no means “the final piece of the puzzle”.
The team has needs all over its roster and they will hope Mayock can further his reputation by performing strongly in the draft.
There are potential negatives to this deal for Oakland. Despite the gaudy numbers that Brown has put up in his career so far, whether he would like to acknowledge it or not a large part of that is down to the fact that he’s played with a Hall of Fame bound QB for the entirety of it.
Given the obvious volatility of Brown’s nature, it remains to be seen how he will react when his targets simply aren’t of the quality they were in Pittsburgh. Oakland have been a bad team for a decade now, amassing a 61-99 record with only one winning season over that span whilst the Steelers have been an almost perennial playoff presence.
Cynicism would suggest that Brown doesn’t care, he got his money. But his signing may be the turning point the Silver and Black team needed and he is invested in that.
As good as their QB may be, good teams need star players beyond that.
The Patriots have had Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman, the Chiefs have both Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill and the Rams have Todd Gurley and Brandin Cooks to compliment Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes and Jared Goff. Carr will no doubt be delighted by the signing of Brown, who will instantly become the best receiver he has ever worked with. Carr had a poor year in 2018, fighting for his own safety a lot of the time in a year that eerily reminded people of his older brother David’s struggles with the Texans many years ago.
Roethlisberger was the least pressured QB in the league last year behind a line that ranked 1st in pass-blocking. This will have no doubt impacted Brown’s ability to work down the field and get open, a luxury that he certainly would not have had playing in Oakland last year. (At the time of writing this article the Raiders were in agreement with Trent Brown, the excellent Pats OL).
The Steelers, having long been regarded as one of the more stable franchises in the NFL, now resemble somewhat the opposite. A year on from the Bell debacle, they lose another superstar who desperately wanted out of the organisation.
Kevin Colbert, the GM in Pittsburgh, does not come out of this looking well after talking so strongly about getting a haul in return for Brown. That hasn’t happened. They have a franchise QB in the building, his power in the locker room now solidified, but he is aging and doesn’t have much left in the tank. Juju Smith Schuster looks a fantastic talent but it remains to see how he will perform now that Brown will not be on the field to take defensive attention from him. James Conner gives them reason to be positive in the post-Bell era after having a strong ’18 season in his place in the backfield. The hottest seat in their building belongs to coach Mike Tomlin, who has to fight now justified claims that he is not in full control of the locker room.
Antonio Brown the player represents a fantastic coup for Gruden and co. He’s one of the best players in the league and his ability and work ethic cannot be doubted. Last year will undoubtedly leave a worry in the back of some minds, though.
If Brown becomes a problem in the Bay Area, it could get extremely combustible between him and Gruden. Ask Tampa fans about the relationship between a certain Keyshawn Johnson and their Super Bowl winning leader.
Gruden is a powerful personality and has carte blanche control in Oakland, it is hard to imagine him sitting back and allowing what Tomlin did. If Chucky and AB hit it off though and the team is sufficiently strengthened in other areas, the future could be very bright for the Vegas bound Raiders.