Back in March, before the Antonio Brown saga involved feet and a helmet, it was a relatively standard dispute of a disgruntled player riding an elliptical and demanding a trade from his team. The Steelers had no desire to keep him, but they still thought highly enough of him that they didn’t want a good team to have him. After a false start with the Bills, they believed they’d found a solution by shipping him to the Raiders.
That solution was only temporary. Brown’s relationship with his new team, specifically GM Mike Mayock, deteriorated rapidly over the summer, and when he no longer had any financial security, yesterday he demanded to be cut, which the Raiders quickly did. Hours later, he signed a one-year deal with the Patriots that included a $9 million signing bonus. Brown would be on a perennial playoff team within Pittsburgh’s conference. Whoops.
As reported in a column Saturday night by Charles Robinson of Yahoo Sports, the Steelers knew in March that the Patriots wanted Brown, but wouldn’t satisfy their rivals’ wishes, even if that meant settling for a lackluster trade return. From Robinson:
According to a source familiar with New England’s interest in Brown last spring – including the talks between the Steelers and Patriots – it came down to this: Pittsburgh didn’t want Brown in New England. The Steelers knew they’d likely have to grapple with the Patriots in the 2019 playoff picture. Beyond that, there was already bitter feelings born out of competition between the two teams (not to mention the whole LeGarrette Blount fiasco in 2014). Sending Brown into the arms of the Patriots and Bill Belichick would not only be costly to Pittsburgh’s own playoff chances, it would border on humiliating. Especially if the deal wasn’t for a significant package in return. It would mean waving the white flag to all the parties the Steelers simply didn’t want to surrender to. From Brown to Bill Belichick to Tom Brady.
“Pittsburgh just wasn’t going to do it,” said a source familiar with the Patriots’ pursuit of Brown. “It was never going to happen. No matter what [agent Drew Rosenhaus] thought or whoever else, there was no way the Steelers were sending him to New England.”
Pittsburgh didn’t do it, but it happened anyway. And so, at the final tally, the Steelers ended up with a third-round pick, a fifth-round pick, and the hope that rookie receiver Diontae Johnson will eventually make everyone forget about AB; the Raiders ended up with nothing; and the Patriots ended up with one of the best receivers in the NFL on an absurdly team-friendly contract, playing across from Josh Gordon. What did we all learn from this fiasco? It’s unclear, but to quote J.K. Simmons’s character in Burn After Reading, “I guess we learned not to do it again.”