The most logical landing spots for Antonio Brown
One of the best wide receivers in NFL history will have a new home in 2019.
Antonio Brown has created a lot of off-field questions in recent weeks as he’s forced the Steelers’ hand into an imminent trade. But, even as Brown approaches age 31 this summer, there isn’t a team in the NFL that wouldn’t benefit from his on-field presence.
Of course, only a handful of clubs will think they have the right coach and locker room, the requisite cap situation and draft capital and the required risk aversion to take a swing at landing Brown. Those are a few of the biggest factors we used in paring down the five most logical trade destinations for the perennial Pro Bowler and surefire future Hall of Famer.
Before we get started, a reminder that the Super Bowl LIII participants, the Patriots and Rams, each made big trades for receivers in 2018, and the winner two years ago, the Eagles, signed a No. 1 receiver in its SBLII run and acquired via trade the second-biggest target at last year’s trade deadline. Coverage-dictating, big-play receivers absolutely can create a profound effect for an offense, and few are feared more than Brown.
1. Indianapolis Colts
Might as well start at the top. That is, the top of the list of NFL clubs with the most cap room. The Colts have more than $107 million with which to work and a general manager, Chris Ballard, who’s a staunch believer in taking calculated risks. That’s key, as Brown has made it clear that he expects his next team to kick in some new guaranteed dollars on his deal, and Frank Reich cultivated one of the best locker-room cultures in the league in Year 1.
The Colts also have an extra second-round pick (from the Jets in the Sam Darnold deal) and a need at receiver, albeit ideally a bigger one to complement T.Y. Hilton. But can you imagine Brown and Hilton flanking red-zone monster TE Eric Ebron? Andrew Luck probably can, and he might be the right kind of leader, handling his business more privately than Big Ben, to sync up well with Brown.
2. Green Bay Packers
Before we get to some teams in need of a difference-making wideout to maximize their unproven quarterbacks, we must mention another one with an established passer and passing game that could become even more fearsome with Brown.
In Davante Adams, Aaron Rodgers already has his blue-chip WR1. What he lacks is a second option with Brown’s route-running prowess and versatility. Marquez Valdes-Scantling and/or Equanimeous St. Brown might grow into that in time. But Rodgers is 35, staring at the biggest reboot of his 13-year career and now has an aggressive general manager willing to turn over every stone on the pro personnel side and wielding two first-rounders and a healthy cap situation. And wouldn’t it be something if, one year after their oldest rivals landed Khalil Mack, the Packers added Brown?
3. New York Jets/Buffalo Bills
Forgive us for lumping together these two AFC East also-rans, but it’s the Patriots and everyone else, and it’s that fact that might compel either Mike Maccagnan and Adam Gase or Brandon Beane and Sean McDermott to swing for the fences.
Buffalo has the worst supporting cast for a young quarterback in the NFL; no team could use Brown more. Josh Allen can be a bit, we’ll say, erratic, and Brown makes difficult catches appear routine. But is Buffalo the right town for the high-profile Brown? That’s tough to say.
The Jets have a couple promising pass catchers in Robby Anderson and TE Chris Herndon but also an opportunity to capitalize on Sam Darnold’s late-rookie season momentum with a splash. One potential rub: Can Gang Green support any more crazy above and beyond Adam Gase and Gregg Williams?
4. San Francisco 49ers
No team has been connected more to Brown, who has been courted on social media by All-Pro TE George Kittle and “badly” wants to be there, according to 49ers GOAT Jerry Rice. San Francisco also has in excess of $76 million in cap space — No. 5 in the NFL, per spotrac — and an outgoing former No. 1 in Pierre Garcon but incoming QB1 in Jimmy Garoppolo, who dared Kittle to Twitter recruit AB.
Kyle Shanahan certainly knows how to get the most out of high-volume playmaking receivers, from Garcon in Washington to Julio Jones in Atlanta. The Niners have an exciting young talent at receiver in Dante Pettis and full-blown star in Kittle to complement Brown. But there are some potential hangups, including DV allegations against Brown that could scare off a Niners club that badly whiffed on Reuben Foster.
5. Seattle Seahawks
Pete Carroll loves to trade and isn’t shy about welcoming big, mercurial personalities. Doug Baldwin is coming off his least-productive season since signing a big extension. The Seahawks, despite their affinity for running into crowded boxes, could help their offense and unshackle Russell Wilson with the arrival of Brown. They have the cap room and are readying to part ways with a few more defensive stalwarts in Earl Thomas and K.J. Wright.
Seattle has traded for other perceived problems, including Percy Harvin and Marshawn Lynch. It just watched the rival Rams acquire Brandin Cooks, who let L.A. down in the Super Bowl. This would be quite the countermove after reminding everyone last season that they’re still a force in the West.
The Steelers won’t consider dealing Brown within the division or to the cream of the conference for the better part of two decades, the Patriots, according to Albert Breer of MMQB. That’s the only reason we didn’t include the Browns and New England, both flush with cap space and/or draft capital and clearly willing to push in all their chips.
The football fits would be outstanding, but it makes sense that Steelers brass wouldn’t send him to a team they’ll see at least twice annually or the one most likely restricting their path back to the Super Bowl.
Still, the Browns just showed in their signing of Kareem Hunt that talent trumps off-field questions, especially as they appear ready to make a long-overdue playoff push.
The Patriots, more than any other team, have proven consistently that they can turn other teams’ cast-offs into their own invaluable cast members. And with Rob Gronkowski’s future in Foxboro uncertain, Brown would make sense for all the same reasons as acquiring Gordon last fall.