SportsPulse: Antonio Brown is now a Raider. Our NFL insider Mike Jones breaks down how Oakland was able to pull off the massive trade and what’s next for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
He did it.
By successfully orchestrating his exit from Pittsburgh, landing in Oakland and simultaneously garnering new financial security, Antonio Brown won. He got everything he wanted.
Realizing the worth as one of the best wide receivers in the game, Brown pulled a power move rarely seen in the NFL.
It’s not unheard of for star athletes to strong-arm their way into better professional arrangements. But in the NFL, where fully guaranteed contracts are scarce, players feel more restricted and rarely have the ability to flex such muscle. Even when they try, it’s rare they enjoy the kind of payoff that Brown received with a new team and a three-year, $50.13 million deal.
Brown had the elite-level clout to exercise the necessary leverage, and here he stands, victorious. So, too, do the Raiders, who landed a four-time all-pro wideout for third- and fifth-round draft picks, just five months after trading the younger but less talented Amari Cooper to Dallas for a first-round selection. The Steelers obviously lose, but at least the drama has ended.
Brown’s move was met with mixed feelings around the NFL. As his saga has played out over several months, he has become both hero and villain.
Focusing on the end result, some current and former players commended the nine-year veteran for securing greater financial security in a setting in which he felt more comfortable. They also viewed Brown’s feat as beneficial for players in future deals. Meanwhile, Brown rubbed others the wrong way with the tactics that he used to trigger his departure from Pittsburgh.
Both viewpoints are valid.
Brown represents one of the true success stories in the NFL. Through hard work and determination, he transformed himself from sixth-round pick to one of the most dangerous offensive weapons in the game.
He found himself in a situation that he viewed as toxic. His relationship with Ben Roethlisberger had badly deteriorated, and to Brown, there were double standards of accountability. He believed he couldn’t continue this way.
Brown capitalized on the leverage he had earned as an elite player and forced the Steelers’ hand. Now, he believes he has improved his life from both a football and financial standpoint. He joins a team that’s building and has the assets for a quick ascension. Brown also went from a deal with no guaranteed money remaining to one with just more than $30 million in assurances.
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Not every player can change their fortunes in this manner. In fact, most would be forced to stick it out no matter how bad the situation.
But because of Brown’s unique position, some current and former peers tipped their caps upon learning of his deal.
Former NFL running backs DeAngelo Williams and Arian Foster were among the players who praised Brown on social media. Williams – who briefly played with Brown in Pittsburgh – called the receiver a true businessman. Foster, a former AFC rival, described Brown’s accomplishments as “(expletive) beautiful.”
They did so in part because as he secured his latest pay day, Brown won for more than just himself and his family. His achievement also has reset the bar for top-flight receivers.
Brown now has positioned Atlanta’s Julio Jones and New Orleans’ Michael Thomas for similar paydays. Jones is expected to sign a new contract sometime this offseason, and Thomas is entering the final year of his deal.
But not every player sees Brown as heroic. While always happy to see other players get paid, and while acknowledging the positive impact that Brown’s figures will have on the market, multiple players who spoke with USA TODAY Sports had strong feelings about his exit strategy.
It bothered some to see Brown standing on the sideline in a fur coat while Pittsburgh’s postseason hopes dangled by a thread in Week 17 of the regular season after the team ruled him inactive. Fair or not, some players got the impression that Brown quit on his teammates. Brown also has drawn criticism for how he chose to publicly air his displeasure with the Steelers and his demands for a trade.
Every player is different. Some, like former Raiders pass rusher and current Bears standout Khalil Mack, have let their situations play out behind the scenes before ultimately getting the big payout and fresh start that they desired. Le’Veon Bell chose not to sign his second consecutive franchise tag with Pittsburgh and sat out a year of football while remaining largely out of the spotlight, and now he gets his wish of hitting free agency.
Many of us have found ourselves in undesirable working conditions, and we’ve done what we can to find a remedy. But truthfully, few players and certainly no fans will ever find themselves in Brown’s specific situation. That’s why multiple players interviewed for this piece declined to speak on the record.
In some ways, it’s unfortunate that such a talented, hard-working player is now cast in such a negative light. But maybe all it will take is another 1,200-yard season or two for some of his critics to forgive and forget.
Brown didn’t immediately respond to interview requests left for him, so it’s hard to determine how he devised his exit strategy, or if he regrets any of his steps. But it’s clear that he went about his business with the belief that this was the best way to accomplish what he wanted.
And so, whether regarded as a villain, hero or both, Brown put himself and his family in a better situation. Regardless of the role, he wins.
Follow Mike Jones on Twitter @ByMikeJones.