Though it doesn’t appear the Steelers need any arm twisting to seek out a deal for Antonio Brown the disgruntled receiver is doing plenty of arm twisting anyway. He posted a farewell message to Pittsburgh with a video featuring the song “Do What I Want” by rapper Lil’ Uzi Vert. It’s a little on-the-nose for my taste, but it gets Brown’s point across.
This is typically where I’d list out all the teams that should trade for Brown, but that list would include almost every team in the league. So instead, we’ll look at the teams that do not have the financial means to trade for the NFL’s best receiver.
First, let’s take a look at the financial ramifications of such a trade, for both the Steelers and whichever team trades for Brown.
THE STEELERS WILL TAKE A HIT TO THE CAP NO MATTER WHAT
After agreeing to a four-year, $68 million deal in February 2017, the Steelers and Brown later restructured the contract to free up some short-term cap space for the team. That left $21.12 million in pro-rated bonuses left on Brown’s deal heading into this offseason, which will become dead money against the cap if the Steelers deal or cut him. There are ways the team could save money on what it has to pay Brown or even shift the dead money to future years, but there’s no real way to make this deal make much financial sense for Pittsburgh.
BUT BROWN’S NEW TEAM WOULD BE GETTING HIM AT A BARGAIN PRICE
If a team trades for Brown, it will owe him $36.4 million over a three-year deal. If the trade happens after March 17, by which point the Steelers would have paid Brown a roster bonus, the wide receiver would cost his new team $12.6 million for the 2019 season. The number would jump to $14.1 million if the new team has to pay the roster bonus.
That’s still … not a lot of money for an elite player at a premium position.
The last two years on Brown’s contract wouldn’t be very pricey either. He’s due only $23.8 million (or $11.9 million per year) for the 2020 and 2021 seasons. That would put Brown around 15th in the league in terms of average annual salary. And none of that money would be guaranteed, so if Brown’s play dropped off or if he decided to pull this stunt again, his new team could cut bait without any cap penalties.
It’s a low-risk move from a financial standpoint.
BECAUSE OF THAT, ALMOST EVERY NFL TEAM COULD CONCEIVABLY AFFORD BROWN
You’d have to go far down the NFL’s cap table to find a team that isn’t capable of clearing enough money to bring in Brown. Teams flushed with cap space (like the Jets, Raiders and 49ers) are obvious trade partners, but don’t count out the Super Bowl contenders with OK cap situations.
The Chiefs aren’t going to trade for Brown, but they could, which would be a nightmare scenario for the rest of the league. Kansas City could send Sammy Watkins and a pick to Pittsburgh for Brown. The Chiefs would be getting a major upgrade for only $7 million more than they’d pay if they kept Watkins around.
The Patriots are another team that could make this move, though it’s unlikely the Steelers would want to make their biggest rival stronger. But let’s say they open to it. The Pats could trade Rob Gronkowski, a second-round pick and late-round pick into a deal for Brown. Trading Gronk would save New England $9.9 million in cap space. Subtract that from the $12.6 million the Pats would have to pay Brown for 2019, and they are looking at a net cost of only $2.7 million.
Playoff teams like the Ravens, Chargers, Texans, Seahawks and Colts could swing a deal, too. Fringe playoff teams like the Panthers, Falcons and Titans should also be exploring this opportunity.
So what teams can’t trade for Brown?
There aren’t many. At the moment, there are only six teams with less than $10 million available in cap space — and that’s before teams make their cuts to clear out space. The Jaguars, for instance, are actually looking at a $6 million deficit as of now, but could clear out a ton of space by cutting some highly-paid veterans who are no longer earning their keep.
Playoff teams like the Eagles, Vikings, Saints and Bears don’t have much in the way of cap space and Brown would be seen as a luxury for those teams. You can cross those teams off the list as potential trade partners, but every other team in the league could make this deal happen and it would make all the sense in the world for them to do it.