Antonio Brown trade: Raiders' costs, benefits of pursuing wide receiver

Antonio Brown trade: Raiders' costs, benefits of pursuing wide receiver

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Raiders are meeting with several top wide receivers here at the NFL Scouting Combine.

Count Oklahoma’s Marquise Brown, South Carolina’s Deebo Samuel and Ole Miss’ D.K. Metcalf and A.J. Brown among them.

The Silver and Black need a positional overhaul at receiver, as Jordy Nelson and Seth Roberts are the only experienced options on the roster. Realistically, the Raiders need at No. 1 receiver. And a No. 2. Maybe a No. 3.

A relatively weak free-agent class might help, but not much.

The draft, however, can help fill some of those spots. Maybe not all of them.

“This wide receiver class is different than a lot of years,” Raiders general manager Mike Mayock said on Friday at the NFL Scouting Combine. “A lot of years, you have a dominant one or two or three wideouts where you go, ‘they’re clearly the top three.’ What we’re seeing this is that there are good wideouts for about three or four rounds, solid guys who can come in and start for you. But I don’t think there are any guys who are going to say that they’re the No. 1 wideout in this draft. I think it’s more about finding guys who fit scheme-wise. That’s what we’re trying to figure out now.”

There’s a clear-cut, no-doubt-about-it receiver out there, though he’s currently a Pittsburgh Steeler.

For how much much longer remains to be seen. Antonio Brown has made a trade request the Steelers are willing to grant, though they’re asking for a king’s ransom.

Multiple teams have reached out to inquire about acquiring Brown, and NFL Media's Ian Rapoport reported Friday that the Raiders are one.

Raiders coach Jon Gruden was asked that question directly on Thursday, and evaded it.

"I don't know. I don't have any comment on any of that,” Gruden said in a side session with Raiders beat reporters. “I'm not going to take the cheese on that."

He’d have to give up some cheddar for Brown, possibly one of the Raiders’ four draft picks in the top 35. Then they’d likely have to restructure Brown’s contract, despite it already paying the five-time All-Pro top dollar.

Oh, and he’ll be 31 in July. Is that the right move for a rebuilding team several major upgrades from contention in the AFC West? They’d have to give up draft capital that could’ve been used on a younger, cheaper receiver that could help in the short and long term.

Draft prospects are unproven commodities. Brown, by contrast, is a sure thing.

Gruden heaped praise on Brown before playing Pittsburgh during the 2018 season, though that came before a well-publicized argument with Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. He called Brown a tireless worker, a dynamic threat.

It’s hard to argue those points in this cost-benefit analysis, though Gruden’s preferences must also be weighed.

“Well, I don’t like veteran players, so I’ll just leave it at that," Gruden said with tongue firmly in cheek. "I’m not going to speculate about anybody. We are going to look at every vehicle possible. Certainly the financial part of every acquisition has to be considered, but we are going to look into everybody’s availability and what we think is best for our team.”

Gruden has also said some of the team’s $71 million in salary-cap space will be reserved in case an attractive trade proposal becomes available during the draft.

[RELATED: Gruden denies trying to manipulate draft with QB praise]

The Raiders coach and chief personnel man is setting up the possibility of acquiring Brown as he reconstructs his receiver corps, and getting Brown won’t stop the Raiders from drafting more help down the road.

The cost to get Brown is unknown, though his recent perception as a volatile presence must also be weighed as the Raiders make an important decision about the direction and pace of their rebuild. If they’re as patient as they’ve promised to be, acquiring talent to help this team as it transitions to Las Vegas, sacrificing assets for Brown might not be proper tact. He would help the Raiders win faster, especially if the Silver and Black strike with their post-trade high draft picks and a select few free-agent targets.

Brown’s market price will continue to develop as we near the NFL draft, and the Raiders must determine his worth versus what it would cost to get him.

How Raiders' Al Davis told Amy Trask of Barret Robbins' Super Bowl absence

Getty Images/NBC Sports

How Raiders' Al Davis told Amy Trask of Barret Robbins' Super Bowl absence

Editor’s note: Sports Uncovered, the newest podcast from NBC Sports, shines a fresh light on some of the most unforgettable moments in sports. The fifth episode tells the story of "The Mysterious Disappearance that Changed a Super Bowl," chronicling Barret Robbins' absence from Super Bowl XXXVII.

Amy Trask had a conversation with Barret Robbins on the morning of Super Bowl XXXVII. The brief exchange between the then-Raiders CEO and Pro Bowl center didn’t raise any red flags.

A phone call with owner Al Davis a short while later, however, indicated that something was very wrong.

“Quite early that morning, I had gone out on a run and saw Barret in the lobby,” Trask said. “I ran into him, went up to my room and not long thereafter, Al called me and said, ‘Barrett’s not playing.' I said, ‘I just saw him in the lobby. He can play. I just had a conversation with him. He can play.’ And Al shared with me that others had made the decision to send Barret home. I hung up the phone, looked at my husband and I said, ‘We just lost the game.’ ”

[SPORTS UNCOVERED: Listen to the latest episode]

The Raiders ended up getting trounced by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that night at San Diego’s Qualcomm Stadium, and losing their top-notch center just before the game didn’t help. The distraction of Robbins' disappearance the night before, while on a bender that carried from Friday through Saturday evening, certainly didn’t help.

Neither did the fact that coach Bill Callahan changed the game plan at the last minute, or that Jon Gruden was on the other sideline and used his knowledge of the Raiders’ scheme and personnel against the team that traded him to Tampa Bay during the 2002 offseason.

All of those topics are discussed during Thursday’s episode of NBC’s “Sports Uncovered” documentary podcast, which delves deep into Robbins’ sudden disappearance and the root causes of it, exploring the role his mental health played in that period and over his entire life.

Robbins admitted that he wouldn’t have been able to play in the game. He was not mentally able to do so after a night of partying and a mental-health episode that put him in a bad state. The Raiders evaluated Robbins after he returned to the team hotel Saturday evening and decided he wasn’t able to play.

Team doctors concluded that he wasn’t in a proper mental state to play in the biggest game of his life.

“On [Sunday] morning, I woke up and stretched and walked with Willie Brown and saw the doctors and everything,” Robbins said in an archived interview with NBC Sports Bay Area’s Greg Papa. “And, if they would have told me I could have played, I don’t know if I could’ve at that point. To be honest with you, I was sick.”

The Raiders sent him away and checked him into the Betty Ford Clinic in Riverside. It was only there, for the first time in his life, that Robbins was accurately diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He wasn’t properly treated for the condition before then, which led to problems off the field with substances of abuse.

Robbins was transported to a hospital on Sunday and barely watched any of the game.

“I saw a couple of plays on TV,” Robbins said. “They were watching it when I got there, but I didn’t sit up and watch it. I was there while I was, you know, on suicide watch. … It was a bad situation, obviously, and to recover from that, I don’t know if I have.”

[RELATED: The real reason why Barret Robbins missed Super Bowl XXXVII]

The Raiders haven’t gotten over that loss, either. It ended a short but dominant run and ushered in an era of futility unlike any in Raiders history. The Raiders have made the postseason only once since losing the Super Bowl.

The loss was difficult for those heavily invested in it. Among others, Trask took it particularly hard.

“When we lost, I cried myself to sleep that night wearing the same clothes I wore to the game,” Trask said. “I put my head on my husband’s shoulders and cried myself to sleep. But I never, ever lost sight of the fact that Barret Robbins is a human being. As badly as I felt, and as miserable as I was, and as hurt as our fans were and our organization was, I can only imagine Barret’s pain.”

How Raiders' party culture tradition led to Barret Robbins' downfall

How Raiders' party culture tradition led to Barret Robbins' downfall

Editor’s note: Sports Uncovered, the newest podcast from NBC Sports, shines a fresh light on some of the most unforgettable moments in sports. The fifth episode tells the story of "The Mysterious Disappearance that Changed a Super Bowl," chronicling Barret Robbins' absence from Super Bowl XXXVII.

Party hard, play with a vengeance. Under strong-willed owner Al Davis, the Raiders of the 1960s and ‘70s crafted an image of rebelliousness, with a touch of villainy. They got away with it because they won.

That mentality faded over the years, but never fully left the owner’s suite. Davis believed, until his last breath, that talent would overcome detrimental characteristics. Because he saw it.

Which is why the Raiders were a comfortable environment for Barret Robbins, the football player -- but perhaps the worst of NFL franchises for Barret Robbins, the man.

“We used to drink the night before, get IVs and yeah, played some great games, some of our best games,” Robbins recalled in a 2011 interview with Greg Papa of NBC Sports Bay Area.

“That was the Raider Way, you know,” said Rod Coleman, a Raider from 1999-2003. “You work hard, you play hard. That was the mindset.

“That culture was very dangerous, looking back now because when you’re in your 20s and the world expects you to win every day, every week, every season, it’s a lot of stress and pressure on you. And if you had no one to talk to about it, then, you know, any type of underlying mental issues you have, they’re going to come out sooner or later.”

[SPORTS UNCOVERED: Listen to the latest episode]

When Robbins was drafted by the Raiders in the second round of the 1995 NFL Draft, he was two years removed from being diagnosed with depression during his time at Texas Christian University. The 6-foot-3, 325-pound center would later be diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

Failure to receive proper treatment would play a significant role in Robbins’ infamously mysterious Super Bowl 37 disappearance in January 2003 and, 18 months later, also be a factor -- along with injuries -- in the end of his NFL career at age 30.

In the meantime, there were games to win. With Robbins anchoring a potent offensive line, the Raiders dug out of mediocrity and back toward the elite status they once took for granted. After going 4-12 in 1997, Davis hired Jon Gruden as head coach and the team narrowly missed the playoffs in 1998 and ’99.

Oakland went 12-4 in 2000, reaching the AFC Championship Game. The Raiders were winners, again, and Robbins was literally and figuratively in the middle of the revival.

By 2002, they were back in the Super Bowl, for the first time in 19 seasons. Just winning, baby.

“When anything went on in this town -- good, bad or indifferent -- we were above it because we were winning,” recalled left tackle Lincoln Kennedy. “We had Charles Woodson getting arrested for DUIs, drunk and disorderly conduct. And we had guys that were getting in bar fights and guys that were hitting women. We had all this stuff going on, like any other dysfunctional family in the Bay Area, in any area. You know what I mean?

“And when it was all said and done, when you look in the win and loss columns, we had more wins than we had losses. So, what can you do?”

The Raiders offered no counseling or other therapeutic outlet for Robbins’ struggles with mental illness, which led to emotional swings that were greatly exacerbated by drugs and alcohol, both of which were part of his routine, according to the late Mo Collins, the guard who lined up next to him.

“You couldn’t go out and just have a beer with Barret -- or two beers with Barret,” Collins recalled in 2011, three years before he died. “He would never let your glass be empty. It was an all-night event.”

That’s how it was throughout the 2002 season as the Raiders cruised toward Super Bowl 37. If didn’t matter much if Robbins was late to meetings or missing them altogether because he was destroying opponents on game day. Barely raised eyebrows if he was late to practice or missing them altogether because he was marching toward All-Pro honors.

He was dipping deeper into the Raider spirit than any of his teammates and still dominating. The team for a while made attempts, according to wide receiver Tim Brown, to monitor Robbins’ prescribed medication.

“When he showed up at practice every day, the first thing he had to do was come in the training room and take his medicine,” Brown recalled. “They actually kept the medicine there. So, they knew that he was taking it. They didn’t even let him take it home. Once he became that player, that Pro Bowl player, they didn’t make that mandatory anymore. Why? I don’t know.

“But I think, when they look back on it -- not that you blame anything on them -- I think they would have probably done things a little differently.”

The 16 years since Robbins retired have brought considerable advances in awareness and also a broader variety of treatment options regarding the challenges of mental health in society. Most NFL teams, realizing the millions they pay players, now have at least one individual whose role is to help cope with off-field issues.

[RELATED: New details on how Branch found missing Robbins before Super Bowl]

The Raiders now understand this.

In March 2012, five months after Davis died and seven weeks after ex-Raider Reggie McKenzie was brought in to direct the football operation, the Raiders hired Lamonte Winston as their first director of player engagement. One of his core duties was to be available “24/7” for crisis management for players, coaches, staff and families.

Times have changed, even with the Raiders. Unfortunately for Robbins, many years too late to be of any help.