The long, winding and sometimes confusing Antonio Brown trade saga officially ended Wednesday as the Pittsburgh Steelers shipped the Pro Bowl wide receiver to the Oakland Raiders for a 2019 third-round draft pick (No. 66 overall) and 2019 fifth-round pick (No. 141 overall).
Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio first reported the news early Sunday morning.
Florio added Brown will receive a new contract as part of the agreement that will pay out $50.125 million over the next three seasons and that his guaranteed cash has gone from zero to $30.125 million. ESPN's Adam Schefter added the deal could increase to $54.125 million with incentives. NFL Network's Ian Rapoport noted the new contract now "makes him the NFL's highest paid WR."
Pittsburgh found a new home for Brown after trade talks between the Steelers and Buffalo Bills reportedly broke down early Friday.
Rapoport reported Thursday night that the Bills were "closing in" on a deal for Brown, but a source told Schefter that the trade was "unlikely." Bills general manager Brandon Beane then made it official that the Bills were out of the running:
Adam Schefter @AdamSchefter
Bills’ GM Brandon Beane: “We inquired about Antonio Brown on Tuesday, and kept talks open with the Steelers. We had positive discussions, but ultimately it didn’t make sense for either side. As great a player as Antonio Brown is, we have moved on and our focus is on free agency.”
Several theories surfaced regarding why the trade didn't happen, but Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com reported Brown was "unwilling" to go to Buffalo. La Canfora then called Brown's market "bleak."
Even so, the Steelers eventually found a landing spot for arguably the best wide receiver of the past decade.
There is no denying that Brown is an elite wideout. He is a seven-time Pro Bowler and four-time first-team All-Pro who has registered at least 100 catches for 1,200 yards and eight touchdowns in each of the past six seasons.
Although he finished second on the Steelers in receptions and receiving yardage to JuJu Smith-Schuster last season, he still had a strong year with 104 grabs for 1,297 yards and an NFL-best 15 touchdown receptions.
Things went sour for Brown and the Steelers leading up to Week 17 of the 2018 season. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Gerry Dulac and Ed Bouchette, Brown and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger reportedly got into an argument at practice, which resulted in Brown's skipping practice for the rest of the week and being ruled inactive for Pittsburgh's game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Brown was vocal about his desire to get traded once the offseason began, and it wasn't long before it became clear the Steelers were willing to grant his request.
Last month, Brown and his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, met with Steelers owner Art Rooney II, general manager Kevin Colbert and executive Omar Khan. Schefter reported that a source told him "everyone agreed the trade will be for the best."
Brown seemed to confirm the report on Twitter:
Antonio Brown @AB84
Had a great meeting with Mr.Rooney today we discussed a lot of things and we cleared the air on several issues! We both agreed that it is time to move on but I’ll always have appreciation and gratitude towards the Rooney family and @steelers organization! #CallGod #Boomin https://t.co/DEgURchvhW
The Steelers found themselves in a difficult situation, since all of Brown's potential suitors knew Pittsburgh had little choice other than to trade him. Brown's reported refusal to report to the Bills threw another wrench into the situation, since it essentially allowed the receiver to dictate where he would go.
In the end, the Steelers reached a deal, and the Raiders have a potential future Hall of Famer as part of their receiving corps.
For quarterback Derek Carr, who saw the Raiders trade Amari Cooper to the Dallas Cowboys last season, the news will be met with open arms. Brown is the best receiver Carr will have ever played with and will give Oakland a focal point for the passing game.
The big question will be if Brown can replicate his gaudy numbers in a new offense and away from Roethlisberger. But it's hard to imagine Oakland pulled the trigger on this trade to make Brown a glorified perimeter blocker. He should see plenty of targets in Oakland.