Trading Antonio Brown

Trading Antonio Brown

With reports from Steelers ownership today that Antonio Brown’s future with the Steelers is “unlikely”, we’ll do a deep dive into understanding the scenarios, important dates, financial ramifications, & possible destinations for his potential trade out of Pittsburgh.


What Stays, What Goes?

Often, trading a player of this caliber would include the movement of future guaranteed salaries, which would actually benefit the losing team as they would not be kept as dead cap in a trade.

However, the Steelers have a policy to NOT guarantee base salaries. They dish out guaranteed dollars in the forms of signing bonuses or roster bonuses, and often convert high base salaries into signing bonuses (restructures) to manage their cap on an annual basis. So in this specific case, Brown holds a total of $21.12M of dead cap, stemming from $11.4M of unallocated signing bonus proration, & $9.72M of unallocated restructure bonus proration (from a $12.96M restructure in March of 2018). All of this must remain with the Steelers in the event of a trade or release this offseason.


The March Roster Bonus

Brown has a $2.5M roster bonus due on March 17th which could be a factor in the timing of this trade. Moving him prior to this date means the bonus would fall into the hands of the new team, but, as a pre June 1st move, it would also mean an acceleration of all $21.12M of dead cap into the 2019 season. After March 17th, this dead cap increases to $23.62M.


June 1st

As alluded to above, the real discussion here lies with the Pre or Post June 1st transaction. For those of you who are unaware, should a player be released or traded prior to June 1st, ALL of the dead cap (guaranteed salaries, unallocated bonus proration, etc…) would accelerate into the current league year. Or in this case:

Between March 13th - March 17th
The Steelers would take on a $21.12M dead cap hit in 2019

Between March 17th - June 1st
The Steelers would take on a $23.62M dead cap hit in 2019

After June 1st

  • The roster bonus will have been paid, and added to the dead cap ($23.62M total)
  • The dead cap would be split up as $9.54M in 2019, & $14.08M in 2020.


Cap Savings

It’s a moot point really, because no amount of cap savings is likely equal to the value of Antonio Browns’ potential on-field production in 2019, but there is a bit of cap to be cleared here.

Between March 13th - March 17th
The Steelers would save $1.045M of 2019 cap space, $18.34M in 2020, $19.54M in 2021

Between March 17th - June 1st
The Steelers would lose $1.455M of 2019 cap space, $18.34M in 2020, $19.54M in 2021

After June 1st
The Steelers would clear $12.625M of 2019 cap space, $4.26M in 2020, $19.54M in 2021


The Traded Contract

When he’s traded, Brown will bring over a deal with three years remaining in one of the following formats:

If traded prior to March 17th, the deal will be 3 years, $38.9M, including cash & cap figures of $15.125M, $11.3M, & $12.5M through 2021.

If traded after March 17th, the deal will be 3 years, $36.425M, including cash & cap figures of $12.625M, $11.3M, & $12.5M through 2021.


Final Thoughts

Is this a smart financial move? No. Is this a smart football move? Also No. Taking on significant dead cap for a player who can potentially bring All-Pro production to your team, in a league that has shifted massively to the passing game, will never be the case. Not to mention over the past 5 seasons, only 7 teams have carried a single $8M+ dead cap figure & made the postseason that year.

But chemistry, leadership, and culture matter - at least to some degree, and it appears that on this front, Brown has overstayed his welcome. He’ll leave a lot of great wins, catches, and of course dead cap, behind him with the Steelers.


Possible Destinations

It’s hard to imagine that EVERY team in the league wouldn't show interest in this move, but there are a few off the top here that make a decent amount of sense.

San Francisco 49ers
The Niners still have plenty of cap to work with, and will likely move on from Pierre Garcon this spring. Brown would join a young, speedy arsenal of WRs & TEs, and instantly become Jimmy Garoppolo’s goto target.

Buffalo Bills
Outside of Sammy Watkins, who was hampered by injuries much of his career in Buffalo, the Bills haven’t had a bonafide WR1 in years. While they’re likely to address the position both in free agency and in the draft, bringing in a player of Brown’s capabilities would be a big step forward - though his recent antics would be a major red flag, as the current Bills’ organization has taken drastic measures to change the culture of the team of late.

Oakland Raiders
A cash-strapped, homeless Raiders organization will be looking to build heavily through the draft in 2019, but after moving on from their previous WR1 (Cooper), and getting very little from Jordy Nelson or Martavis Bryant in 2018, Oakland owes it to Derek Carr to find him a legitimate receiving option next year - which could very well be a show me year for the well-paid QB.

New York Jets
In a similar vein to the Buffalo conversation (but not as drastic), the Jets would do right by their young, highly drafted QB to place a player of Browns potential into what will certainly be a new-style Jets offense (now that Adam Gase is in the fold). They’ve already re-upped Quincy Enunwa, and have a restricted free agent contract to hammer out with Robby Anderson, but with $100M in cap space to work with, adding a piece like Brown won’t be an issue financially.