The Buffalo Bills desperately needed to improve upon last year’s 31st-ranked passing attack, and GM Brandon Beane picked the splashiest way to do it: trading for the troubled, extremely talented Antonio Brown. Per a late-night report from NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, the Bills are closing in on a deal with the Pittsburgh Steelers to take a star receiver off their hands.
Brown, who turns 31 in July, has been one of the best receivers in the NFL for each of the last six seasons. During that stretch, he’s been voted to the Pro Bowl every single year, and chosen as a first-team All-Pro in a four year stretch from 2014-2017. With a 686/9145/67 receiving slash from 2013 through 2018, Brown leads the NFL in receptions, yards, and receiving touchdowns over the past six seasons, and no one really comes close to those stats.
The Bills have been tasked with creating a supportive environment for second-year quarterback Josh Allen. Adding the league’s best wide receiver will certainly help Allen, at least on the field. This move allows existing targets like Zay Jones and Robert Foster to thrive in secondary roles, rather than asking one of them to lead the receiving corps.
The big question with Brown is whether he can put aside his personal desires for the sake of team unity. At the end of his tenure with the Steelers, Brown skipped meetings and came to practices late, leading to a benching in the final game of the year. In the offseason, he publicly aired grievances with his teammates and coaching staff, talked about his desire for more guaranteed money in his contract, and forced the Steelers to trade him away. Will he cooperate with Sean McDermott’s process? Can the Bills afford to pay him what he wants, both financially and organizationally?
Having been traded, Brown’s signing bonus will be accelerated onto Pittsburgh’s salary cap as dead money. He’s owed $15.1 million in 2019, $11.3 million in 2020, and $12.5 million in 2021, the final year of his contract. None of that remaining money is guaranteed, outside of a $2.5 million roster bonus that’ll be paid out shortly. If Brown’s expecting a raise at 31 years old, he’s probably out of luck; he’s already paid handsomely for an NFL receiver. But to ease his mind, the Bills could potentially convert some or all of Brown’s $15.1 million salary into a signing bonus, paying him the cash up front and spreading the cost over the remaining three years of his deal. That would be a surprising move, though, because it hews closer to Doug Whaley’s financial methods than to Brandon Beane’s.
With Brown’s acquisition, the Bills can check off the box for a receiving target for Josh Allen. Still to come: Reinforcing his offensive line, and replenishing an empty tight end cupboard.
Update 7:30 a.m.:
Adam Schefter reported that the Bills were no longer in the Antonio Brown trade talks. Ian Rapoport eventually confirmed the new report before general manager Brandon Beane released a statement confirming a Brown trade was not going to happen.
Carry on with your Friday.