Business is moving.
Antonio Brown will get his wish to leave the Pittsburgh Steelers, who have agreed to trade their disgruntled perennial all-pro to the Oakland Raiders for a third- and fifth-round draft pick, according to multiple reports.
Brown tweeted a picture of himself wearing Oakland’s iconic Silver & Black late Saturday night and issued a second post of himself and Raiders quarterback Derek Carr when they were teammates on the AFC Pro Bowl squad.
Per NFL Network, Brown will receive a reworked contract that covers three years and pays $50.1 million (with a maximum value of $54.1 million) with $30.1 million of it guaranteed.
The move cannot become official until Wednesday, when the NFL’s new league year begins at 4 p.m. ET.
If he’s able to attain the new deal’s maximum value, Brown will surpass the Giants’ Odell Beckham in terms of average annual compensation for a wide receiver. OBJ currently averages $18 million annually.
So comes an end to Brown’s nine seasons in the Steel City, where he was a seven-time Pro Bowler and finishes as the second-most prolific receiver in Steelers history (in terms of catches, yards and touchdowns) behind Hines Ward.
However, despite a reputation as a tireless worker, Brown had worn out his welcome by the end of 2018, which ended with him deactivated for a must-win game in the regular-season finale.
Since then, Brown has openly lobbied for a move through traditional and social media, expressing his unhappiness while characterizing his relationship with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and the organization that drafted him in the sixth round in 2010 as broken.
Brown’s public attitude, plus the fact that he’ll turn 31 before next season, seemingly made it difficult for Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert to extract full value for a player who’s averaged 114 receptions, 1,524 yards and 11 touchdowns over the past six seasons, historic production for such a sustained period. Pittsburgh was apparently close to shipping Brown to the Bills late Thursday, but he scuttled the trade, according to reports. Buffalo GM Brandon Beane publicly removed his team from the AB sweepstakes Friday morning.
Mock draft: What other moves might Steelers, Raiders make?
Now Brown heads to Oakland, for one year anyway, and will then follow the Raiders to Las Vegas in 2020. It’s a somewhat curious move for new GM Mike Mayock and coach Jon Gruden, who import a highly talented veteran but probably not someone who can be part of a long-term foundation like former Raiders stars Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper, who were both dealt in 2018.
But Mayock winds up retaining all three of his selections in Round 1 of April’s draft and four of the first 35 picks as he and Gruden attempt to revitalize a club that’s gone 10-22 over the past two years after breaking a lengthy playoff drought in 2016. Even with Brown, the Raiders still appear well behind the AFC West rival Chiefs and Chargers, who both reached the playoffs last season. But they obtain a high-wattage star to help herald the move to Sin City while the next wave of youngsters gets up to speed.
Back in Pittsburgh, Colbert, Roethlisberger and coach Mike Tomlin must forge ahead without Brown and star running back Le’Veon Bell, who will hit the free agent market himself. The Steelers failed to reach postseason last year for the first time since 2013 after Bell chose not to report rather than play under the franchise tag, while Brown’s relationship with the organization unraveled.
Colbert now owns four of the upcoming draft’s first 83 picks but also has lingering holes to fill on defense. Newly minted Pro Bowlers JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Conner have proven capable of filling much of the production of Brown and Bell, respectively, but neither player is the same kind of dynamic talent as his predecessor. Smith-Schuster — his 111 catches and 1,426 yards last season surpassed Brown’s numbers (104 and 1,297, respectively) — must now prove he can thrive as a No. 1 receiver while being guarded by the top-tier corners who used to shadow Brown.
Yet it must also be noted that Pittsburgh never got further than the AFC Championship Game with Brown and Bell as starters despite their prodigious talent. Both had the proclivity to be a distraction and often left Tomlin and their teammates trying to answer for their questionable actions.
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Follow Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis