The crisis surrounding Antonio Brown and the Pittsburgh Steelers seems to evolve every day. We have now reached the point where the Steelers are willing to part ways with their star receiver. Not only that but they have asked his agent to help facilitate finding a trade. Currently there are apparently three teams who have enquired about a trade. Given the Steelers statement about not trading Brown to certain place it is unlikely the New England Patriots are one of those teams. However, they should be interested because there is a way they could get Brown on their roster.
A Wonderful Talent
How good Brown is at the wide receiver position has been somewhat lost in the uproar over his behaviour. The 30-year old receiver has been in the league now for nine seasons, and has been selected to the Pro Bowl in seven of those seasons. The only two seasons he was not selected, were his rookie season and his third season. In those two seasons he only played in a combined 22 games. In every other season of his career he has played in at least 15 games.
What he has done when on the field is incredible. Over his entire career Brown averaged 86.2 yards per game with an average of 6.4 receptions per game and 13.4 yards per reception. In addition, Brown averages 0.56 touchdowns per game, and has scored double digit touchdowns in four seasons.
Brown’s not slowing down either, despite being 30. Last season he was targeted 168 times, for 1297 yards and a league leading 15 receiving touchdowns. His receptions per game were slightly down on the previous five seasons, but he still registered a 62% catch rate.
Needs Outweigh the Risks
There is no denying the Patriots need a receiver. They gambled on Josh Gordon in 2018, but he could not shake his history. That means that the Patriots still need an answer on the outside. They have struggled to draft a receiver, so trading for one seems like the correct answer.
The issue with trading for Brown is slightly different, but no less complex. Brown’s outbursts have been an on and off distraction for the Steelers, and the Patriots will need a structure for dealing with it. The positive is that the Patriots only real stars are Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski. Both will likely to be happy to share the spotlight with Brown. Additionally, he is unlikely to be called out by either of them the way he feels he has been in Pittsburgh.
The Patriots have shown the willingness to gamble on character risks in the past. Some have worked out, such as Randy Moss, and some have not, Albert Haynesworth and Josh Gordon. In the past those risk have largely been on character only. This risk would also be financial. In year one the burden of the cap would be on the Steelers, but after that Brown is still due a total of $37 million on the cap. Ultimately I think it is worth the risk, but it is a bigger risk that they have taken before.
The Steelers have made it pretty clear they will not trade Brown to their main rivals. That absolutely includes the Patriots. Therefore, the Patriots need to be creative if they are to have a chance at Brown. One option would be to make the Steelers an offer so good they would struggle to refuse. However, that will likely still not work if the Steelers stick to their principles.
The second option involves taking a leaf from the baseball and basketball worlds. In those sports three team trades are common, but football it is not. The slight difference here is that the Patriots need to do it without the Steelers knowing they are involved. Instead what they would need is to offer an incentive to another team to first trade for Brown, and then trade him onto the Patriots. The Patriots would have to offer to return the value the team paid for Brown and give them something extra.
That might just be a pick upgrade. Such as if a team traded a pick in the top 10 of the second round, the Patriots could offer their #1 and a lower compensatory pick to sweeten the deal. Another option would be if the other team wanted one of the Patriots upcoming free agents. It is not entirely honorable, but they could try signing him to an extension before free agency and then send him to the other team.
Would it Work?
The Patriots would need to make such a good offer the middle team could not refuse. That team is likely to take a lot of stick for helping the Patriots acquire a player of Brown’s talent. That negative press may be too much for any team to risk, but it is worth picking up the phone.
The delicate balancing act is that the Patriots need to enquire without any of those teams telling the Steelers. If the Steelers get a whiff of what the Patriots are doing they may try and insert a clause into the trade. I am not sure of the legality of doing that, but it is definitely a consideration.
What matters most here is that Brown is a wonderful, if somewhat troubled, talent. The chance to get a talent like that does not come around often, and the Patriots should absolutely consider it.
Featured image courtesy of NBC Sports