The 49ers should add a clear-cut, bonafide No. 1 receiver this offseason. They have an elite tight end and a solid stable of pass catchers — some of which are pretty dynamic — but they lack a wide-out that demands the defense’s full attention on every snap, and that could hold back Kyle Shanahan’s offense from entering the NFL’s elite in 2019.
The Steelers’ Antonio Brown is, without an ounce of doubt, a No. 1 receiver. The future Hall of Famer has averaged 115 catches, 1,525 yards, and 11 touchdowns a season for the last six years.
But reports coming out of Pittsburgh indicate that the soon-to-be 30-year-old might be available via trade in the coming weeks, while Steelers coach Mike Tomlin sounded resigned to the fact that Brown and the team are heading towards divorce.
This is an easily arranged marriage. The Steelers appear motivated to move on from Brown, while the 49ers have the draft capital (a 2020 first-round pick sounds fair, no?) to move and can easily absorb Brown’s contract into their prodigious salary cap space.
This all seems so logical, so straightforward, so clean. I bet someone has already ordered a Niners jersey with Brown 84 on the back.
But amid all this speculation and amateur football matchmaking, something feels amiss. This whole thing doesn’t sit right.
I’m not here to say that the 49ers should absolutely, positively pass on Brown (should he actually be made available for trade), but I do think Niners fans need to pump the brakes — just for a moment — when it comes to a potential AB move.
After all, there’s a reason the Steelers are even considering trading him.
To call Brown’s exit strategy from Pittsburgh unsavory is an understatement.
I’m all for player empowerment, branding, and personality — and calling a star wide receiver a diva has become a lazy trope — but it wouldn’t surprise me to catch Brown wearing a tiara on Instagram soon.
What else would you call someone who has his own water boy?
Or is consistently late to practices and meetings — if he shows up to them at all?
Tomlin has let Brown get away with things no other player could pull for years because, well, he’s a Hall of Fame receiver. It’s a pretty charmed existence AB had going in Pittsburgh, and that million-dollar smile of his has brought in tons of endorsement money and fame.
But now Brown is mad at… what exactly?
Ben Roethlisberger for criticizing his route-running during Week 12?
I’m no fan of Big Ben as a person, but as a quarterback, he’s one of the best of all time. He might throw more interceptions than in the past, but he’s won two Super Bowls, always has his team in the playoff hunt, and led the NFL in passing yards this season. He’s earned the right to make some points to his wide receivers, no matter how talented they might be.
It’s been suggested he’s mad at the Steelers for drafting JuJu Smith-Schuster and making him a key part of the offense.
But being mad at a second-year player for being good (but not as good as Brown) is some low-grade pettiness. To call it unbecoming is an understatement.
Maybe he wants a trade because he’s angry at Tomlin for not playing him in Week 17 after he was AWOL (for the third time this season) and didn’t show up at the facility or practice all week, only to show up at last Sunday’s game, expecting to play?
I don’t need to explain how stupid that line of reasoning is.
Meanwhile, all of this unnecessary and unflattering drama is unfolding, Brown remains extremely online — unsettlingly online — posting passive-aggressive tweets, flirting with other teams on Instagram, and showing up in a live stream with former Steeler (and Tomlin critic) James Harrison during Tomlin’s end-of-season press conference alleging that they’ll have an “exclusive interview” about what’s really going down. (We’re still waiting).
— SteelVideos (@SteelVideos) January 2, 2019
Brown is playing the victim — or at least the aggrieved — in this conundrum of his own making, all while posting that unaffected grin — the one that sells Pepsi and DirecTV subscriptions — everywhere he can.
Maybe Brown is being wronged by the Steelers — I’m not in Pittsburgh, I don’t know all the details. But I’m yet to hear a single reliable person (you don’t count @6ixRingzzzz84) explain how Brown is in the right here.
The 49ers would no doubt love to have Brown, the player, on their team — every team in the NFL would, even at his current price — but is that the kind of person Shanahan wants to bring into his young locker room?
If he doesn’t get along with one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, who is still slinging at an elite level, why would you expect him to get along with Jimmy Garoppolo — a quarterback who has started 10 NFL games?
If he can’t handle not being the unquestioned focal point of the offense, then he sure as hell isn’t going to like Shanahan’s egalitarian passing system, which was built around a pass-catching backfield, a shifty tight end, and saw eight different receivers catch 20 or more passes and 10 receivers catch a touchdown. (This isn’t to say that Shanahan is anti-star receiver, he had Julio Jones in Atlanta and was genius in using him — but Jones is also one of the truly great professionals in the game and would play left guard if asked.)
And if Brown doesn’t like the fact that a younger player is challenging him, then he has no business in Santa Clara. San Francisco might not have a talent like Smith-Schuster on the roster, but the Niners’ locker room is young, energetic, and a distinctly positive place. A veteran missing practices and meetings while complaining about in-house competition is antithetical to the culture Shanahan and general manager John Lynch have carefully (perhaps too carefully) tried to build over the last two years.
If this is what Brown acts like now — while he’s still in his prime — what sort of insecurities will he project as he heads into the downslope of his career, which history says will happen sometime during his current contract (which will transfer to any new team, as the Steelers would be remiss to cut him)?
The 49ers will do their due diligence and risk analysis regarding a trade for Brown in the coming days and weeks (a resolution isn’t expected anytime soon), perhaps they’re cool with everything that’s going down in Pittsburgh or are convinced that it couldn’t happen in Santa Clara.
Or perhaps they’ll see the copious red flags and a general unsavoriness and pass on making a fair-value offer for Brown.
My bet is that the latter option comes to pass.
Either way, I’d hold off on the customized jersey for a while.