After meeting with Steelers brass on Tuesday, it's a matter of "if" not "when" with Antonio Brown.
Pittsburgh's star receiver, one of the league's best players of the last decade, is going to be traded. That much seems inevitable. But if the Steelers are reluctant to trade Brown within the division or -- as has been reported -- to the Patriots, then where might he end up?
And where should Patriots fans want Brown to end up if they can't watch him in red, white and blue next season?
If the Steelers are going to deal away their No. 1 wideout, there are some serious salary and salary-cap implications to consider. Brown is scheduled to count $22.1 million against the cap in 2019, and if the Steelers trade him before June 1 -- one would think the market for a trade would be impacted by what transpires in free agency and then the draft in early May -- they would carry over $21 million in dead money on their cap next season. If they trade him after the draft, after June 1, Brown's dead money would be a shade over $7 million.
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OK so let's get into the candidates for Brown's services. Teams like the Niners, Lions and Seahawks have needs at receiver and the cap space to make the move.
Then there are the Jets, the team that Patriots fans may first gravitate toward when asked to fill in the blank: "I'd be OK with Brown going anywhere but . . . "
And that makes sense. Why would any self-professed Patriots fan be amenable to the Jets adding one of the best weapons in the league? Brown will be 31 next season, but he's a four-time First Team All-Pro and he's racked up six straight 100-catch, 1,200-yard seasons. Unpredictable as he's been off the field of late, he's been the definition of a sure thing at the position over the last half-dozen years.
But even with Brown in the mix in New York, and even with oodles of cap space, there's no guarantee the Jets become a real threat to the Patriots in the division after that kind of acquisition. Sam Darnold could make "the leap" as a second-year quarterback, but he'd still have very little else in the way of weaponry around Brown, and new coach Adam Gase would have to come up with a way to make it all work. Plenty of uncertainty there.
That's why Patriots fans might want to hope that Brown doesn't land in Indianapolis. The Colts won a playoff game last season with a young roster that is built around Andrew Luck and poised to improve. Not only should players like Quenton Nelson and Darius Leonard continue to trend upward after impressive rookie seasons, but general manager Chris Ballard will have more cap space to play with than any other franchise this offseason ($118 million).
If the Steelers are wary of contributing to a conference contender, then they wouldn't want to send Brown to Indianapolis. But if the Colts are still in the mix, Brown would make T.Y. Hilton a top-tier No. 2 target, and he'd potentially open up more room for tight ends Eric Ebron and Jack Doyle to work the middle of the field.
Our buddy Albert Breer from Sports Illustrated said many times last season that the Colts had "dynasty potential" because of their young talent, their legitimate franchise quarterback, and their cap situation. Trading for Brown could very well accelerate the process.
Would it make Indianapolis the favorite to come out of the AFC next season? If not, it would almost certainly help them narrow the gap between themselves and the 2018 champs.
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