No. Absolutely not. The Pittsburgh Steelers have a limited Super Bowl window with Ben Roethlisberger, who’ll be 37 next season, and getting rid of someone as talented as Antonio Brown only hurts the offense in the immediate short-term. And the Steelers Super Bowl window is in that immediate short-term period. The Steelers will be trying to find a new quarterback two or three seasons down the road, maybe even as soon as after next year, and that will completely shutdown their Super Bowl hopes. If the team wants to win with Roethlisberger right now, then they need to keep Brown around.
The Steelers already lost Le’Veon Bell, one of the four best running backs in the sport, now they’re considering parting ways with their future Hall of Fame wide receiver. That just doesn’t make sense! Even if they team gets an early first-round pick in return, I can guarantee that draft selection will never come close to matching Brown’s value and skill. Even if trading Brown makes the locker-room more stable, will that translate to more winning? Are the Steelers really going to further de-fang their offense when they’re supposed to be making the best of Roethlisberger’s final seasons?
The team does have Juju Smith-Schuster, a 22-year-old Pro Bowl caliber wide receiver. Smith-Schuster would easily be the best option on a lot of teams in the NFL. This year he recorded 111 receptions, 1,426 receiving yards, and seven receiving touchdowns. Those are great numbers, but they wouldn’t have been that high if Brown wasn’t drawing double or triple coverages most games. I’m not knocking Smith-Schuster, I love him and I think he’ll be a great player in the NFL for the next decade, but Brown is on a whole different level. It’s the same kind of situation with James Connor and Bell. From 2013 through this season, Brown has averaged 114 receptions, 1,524 receiving yards, and 11 receiving touchdowns. This has been one of the best six year runs in NFL history! You don’t just replace that kind of production.
There was some speculation during the year that Brown was losing a step. He had some games where he seemed to just disappear and put up uncharacteristically low numbers. I understand if you’re trying to justify trading Brown because he’ll be 31 next season and will start slowing down soon, but Brown’s numbers really didn’t drop off as much as you might think. He averaged more receiving yards per game this season (86.5) than in 2016 (85.6) when he was a First Team All-Pro. His 6.9 receptions per game were down from recent years, but they still matched his 2013 total. Brown also recorded a career high and league-leading 15 touchdown receptions. He’s still a super-star wide receiver capable of putting up insane numbers and terrorizing defenses.
The Steelers just signed Brown to a contract extension back in February of 2017. This was the first year on the new deal which runs through the end of 2021 when Brown will be 33-years-old. The contract is for four years and $68 million, which averages out to $17 million a year. He’s near the top in average salary per season for wide receivers. Odell Beckham Jr. currently has the deal worth the most money in that category. He will start the first year of a five-year extension in 2019. The deal is worth $90 million ($18 million a year) and has an extra five million dollars in incentives. Three other wide receivers are making $16 million or more per year: Mike Evans ($16.5), DeAndre Hopkins ($16.2), Brandin Cooks ($16.2), and Sammy Watkins ($16).
Brown’s contract and age might give some potential trade partners reasons to pause and consider their own advantages for acquiring the star receiver. Some players, like Amari Cooper this season, thrive after a change of scenery. Brown has been at his prime for a while now and changing teams only seems like it could bring about a decline in his production. The reason I’m mentioning this is because it seems less dangerous for Brown to remain with the Steelers rather than go out and join a new team. Also, if the Steelers do trade Brown, I’m worried that they’ll undersell him. If the team is going to jeopardize their chances of making the Super Bowl over the next few seasons and give up the most talented receiver in their history, then they better get something extremely valuable in return.
A first round pick, the selling price of Cooper, will probably be what NFL teams will offer for Brown, but that’s not nearly enough. Brown is worth a first rounder plus some other picks either in the high or middle rounds. This is a guy who has produced at an All-Pro level for years despite facing double teams weekly. He’s made the same number of First All-Pro teams as Randy Moss. That’s the level Brown is on right now.
Then again, none of that matters because the Steelers shouldn’t trade Brown. Trading him seems like a good way to damage the offense, stunt Smith-Schuster’s growth, and waste Roethlisberger’s final seasons. Things should have never gotten to this point, not with Bell or Brown. But here we are. Someone in the Steelers organization needs to step up and take responsibility for this mess and then fix it. Because the team is too talented right now to not be in the playoffs and Brown is too talented to let go.