The disassembling of the once-promising offensive core of the Pittsburgh Steelers progressed in earnest early Sunday as they agreed to trade Antonio Brown, the ultra-productive wide receiver who had clashed with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and grown dissatisfied with the team, to the Oakland Raiders.
The Steelers are to receive third- and fifth-round picks in the upcoming NFL draft in exchange for Brown, a seven-time Pro Bowl selection in nine seasons in Pittsburgh. A person close to the situation confirmed that the deal is in place. It becomes official, barring any last-minute snags, when the NFL’s new league year begins Wednesday.
Brown also receives the new contract he’d been seeking as part of a trade. The three-year deal will pay him a maximum of about $54 million and includes $30.125 million in guaranteed money. His previous deal was to pay him about $38.9 million over the next three seasons.
The Steelers once envisioned they would win Super Bowls with Roethlisberger, Brown and running back Le’Veon Bell as centerpieces of an explosive offense. But that group never won a title together, and Bell is headed elsewhere in free agency after sitting out all of this past season in a contract stare-down with the team.
Brown’s production as a receiver never has been in question. He averaged 114 catches for 1,524 yards and 11 touchdowns over the past six seasons in Pittsburgh. He’s coming off a 2018 season in which he had a career-high 15 touchdown catches. He is a four-time all-pro, regarded by many as the game’s top wideout.
But coexisting with Roethlisberger and the Steelers became increasingly difficult. He did not play in the Steelers’ regular season finale, despite the team still being in playoff contention, after reportedly having a heated argument with Roethlisberger during the week. Brown chafed at Roethlisberger’s public criticisms of his route-running and made it clear that he wanted to be traded even with three seasons remaining on his contract. The Steelers decided to accommodate him.
The Raiders always were regarded as a top contender to land Brown, who turns 31 in July. They get him without surrendering any of their three first-round picks in this draft, two of which came in last year’s trades in which they sent star pass rusher Khalil Mack to the Chicago Bears and wide receiver Amari Cooper to the Dallas Cowboys.
The Washington Redskins, Tennessee Titans and Buffalo Bills also had been considered possibilities. A report by the NFL Network in recent days that a trade to Buffalo was close was followed by the Bills saying they were out of the running.
With the Raiders, Brown becomes part of Coach Jon Gruden’s rebuilding effort as the franchise enters what is slated to be its final season in Oakland before making its planned move to Las Vegas. The Raiders parted with Mack and Cooper last year and were one of the league’s worst teams, going 4-12 and leaving room to wonder whether Gruden’s return to coaching after leaving ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” broadcast booth will be ill-fated. The arrival of Brown at least gives the Raiders some cause for optimism that an offense led by quarterback Derek Carr will be improved next season.
The Steelers will resume their pursuit of another Super Bowl crown during what remains of Roethlisberger’s career without the two players who, not so long ago, were expected to be the key contributors to aid the quarterback in securing a third career Lombardi Trophy. Speculation about Bell’s next team has focused on the New York Jets.
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