Veteran wide receiver Antonio Brown on Tuesday said goodbye to the Pittsburgh Steelers fan base.
Since the end of the season, he has made it known he wishes to play for the 49ers.
Of course, Brown remains under contract to the Steelers, so the 49ers are not allowed to publicly discuss the potential of Brown playing in Santa Clara next season.
Behind the scenes, though, the 49ers have discussed the possibilities and weighed the pros and cons associated with such a move.
Here are some of the elements the 49ers would have to consider in making a decision at what level to pursue Brown:
Brown is a seven-time Pro Bowl receiver and four-time All Pro selection. He has six consecutive seasons of 1,200 yards or more receiving. The 49ers need an upgrade at wide receiver.
Kendrick Bourne led the wideouts last season with 487 yards. In 2017, Marquise Goodwin had 962 yards receiving, but coach Kyle Shanahan considers Goodwin more of a role player. Brown's presence could take pressure off tight end George Kittle, as well as attract attention away from everyone else on offense.
Brown has been in the NFL for nine seasons and turns 31 in July. Will Brown still be a productive player when the 49ers are in a position to be legitimate contenders? The 49ers want to pursue a younger player, such as 26-year-old Odell Beckham, whose window of vast production is likely to be open longer.
Brown is making it difficult for the Steelers to keep him around, regardless of what they get in return. He would count $21 million in dead money, but the Steelers will probably need to make a decision by March 18, when he is due a $2.5 million roster bonus.
The 49ers would likely not have to give up a pick on either of the first two days of the draft. They could also send an expendable player to the Steelers in return.
Despite being an ultra-productive player on a team that was always in contention, Brown was unhappy. That is a red flag. He had his issues with Ben Roethlisberger. Those two teamed up for more than 100 receptions six consecutive seasons.
Roethlisberger is about as good as it could have gotten for Brown to maximize his abilities. If he is not happy with his star status with the Steelers, how would he respond in the likely event his production drops with a new team?
The 49ers do not want to give up compensation to the Steelers that could prevent them from building out the remainder of team. But if the Steelers can’t find a trade partner, they might be inclined to cut him. That would make him a free agent, and any team could sign him without surrendering a valuable draft pick.
If Brown hits the open market, the 49ers would still have to come through with a big-money contract to prevent him from signing elsewhere. Currently, Brown is on the books for the Steelers to make $15.125 million this year, $11.3 million in 2020, and $12.5 million in 2021.
The 49ers have an estimated $60 million in salary cap space, so they would have little problem fitting in a lucrative contract for a proven player.
Shanahan and general manager John Lynch always say that players pay attention to who gets the big contracts. Those high-priced players become the models for the rest of the team. Brown experienced drama within the Steelers locker room and off the field, too.
The 49ers have restructured their coaching staff. Mike LaFleur coached the wide receivers the past two seasons. LaFleur is regarded as an excellent coach. But new receivers coach Wes Welker was an All-Pro wide receiver who steps in with instant credibility and a way to relate to players, such as Brown, that LaFleur could not.
The 49ers might be more willing to take a risk if they believe they are just one player away from being championship contenders. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is likely to experience some rough patches. After all, he has started only 10 career games and has a lot to learn.
He is also coming off an ACL injury that limited him to just three games last season. The 49ers must continue to exercise patience, as the team looks to build its culture.