If you’re just waking up: Antonio Brown is not a member of the Buffalo Bills. Wild, I know.
It looked for a while there last night like he might be on his way. The Steelers had set an arbitrary deadline of Friday to trade away their disgruntled but talented receiver, and late Thursday night, Ian Rapoport reported that there was a deal in place with Buffalo. Immediately there was pushback, not only from Brown—who replied “fake news” to an NFL Instagram post with the report—but from all the other football scoopsters. One called a deal “unlikely.” Another said it was “nowhere close.” A third said it flat out “will not happen.”
But even as late as this morning, Rapoport was insisting a deal was in the works. Right up until Bills GM Brandon Beane gave out this statement:
“We inquired about Antonio Brown on Tuesday, and kept talks open with the Steelers. We had positive discussions, but ultimately it didn’t make sense for either side. As great a player as Antonio Brown is, we have moved on and our focus is on free agency.”
So what happened here?
Ah. That would explain that.
Things get very interesting from here. This is just Brown exercising a pro athlete’s only real leverage outside of free agency: a refusal to play. It’s no different than what Anthony Davis and so many NBA players have done, but it’s much rarer in the NFL, where owners would happily blackball the vast majority of players who tried this. But Brown is one of the few players talented enough to potentially avoid that fate, and financially secure enough to make real his threat of not playing. So do the Steelers actually quit trying to shop Brown and get nothing for him, or maybe trade him to one of his preferred destinations even knowing they’re low on leverage and might not get an even return? Brown has made it quite clear that’s not his problem.