In the same season that Davante Adams truly solidified his position as a No. 1 receiver, Jordy Nelson faded and Randall Cobb furthered his troubling trajectory downward. In the 2018 offseason, the Green Bay Packers went after Allen Robinson on a big-money free agent bid, eventually settling on Jimmy Graham and sending Nelson packing. New GM Brian Gutekunst then tripled up in the draft, hoping to hit on one or maybe two useful players.
A year later, what has really changed about the status of the Green Bay Packers offense from a personnel standpoint, other than now we know Graham isn’t an impact player any longer? Shouldn’t that amplify the need to add talent at the position? Cobb will likely follow Nelson out the door, Adams will resume his role at the go-to guy and the Packers will look around hoping to get internal development from
Michael Clark , Jeff Janis, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown.
Or they could trade for Antonio Brown.
From a football standpoint, the fit follows intuitively. The Packers could use the kind of short-area quickness receiver Brown has always been. He’s a master of footwork, one of the best route-runners in football, and because of his body control and hands he is a monster in the red zone despite his stature.
The Matt LaFleur offense shouldn’t require as much one-on-one victory from its receivers as Mike McCarthy’s did, but knowing Brown can do it anyway makes calling plays on third down and in the red zone considerably easier. It’s pretty simple: purely from a football standpoint, every team in the league should be interested in trading for Brown, a perennial All-Pro who hasn’t played fewer than 14 games since 2012 and turns just 31 this offseason.
And before the Nelson defenders get their knives out: if the Packers traded for Brown, when his contract is up in 2021 he’d be as old as Jordy Nelson will be this season for the Raiders.
Trading for an All-Pro receiver in his prime might be costly if it were another player, but the financial ramifications on Brown are minimal relative to his ability. The 2019 cost to the Packers would be about $15.1 million, which includes a roster bonus he’s due on March 17th. Pittsburgh will want to deal him before that bonus is due so they’re not on the hook for even more money for a player they’re dealing. In 2020, the cost comes down to $11.3 million and it would be $12.5 million 2021.
None of that money is guaranteed. Trading for Brown presents a pay-as-you-go option for an elite playmaker. If he’s annoying, trade him. If he makes it through the year and wants a new deal the team doesn’t want to pay, cut him. But if he finds a home in Green Bay, one where he feels appreciated and happy, maybe the team gets a player who gives them the receiving impact they need for a reasonable price.
There are just two remaining questions: what does it take to get a deal done and how does he fit with the Packers? Let’s take the latter question first because it’s far less knowable. Is AB unhappy in Pittsburgh because his quarterback is a jerk (check), his coach no longer seems to have the motivational advantage he once did (check), and a younger star at the position is pushing him out of the spotlight? (also check)
Or is Brown, as his former teammate Ryan Clark said on ESPN a few months ago, simply a numbers-hungry me-first receiver who can’t stand anyone taking his shine, who wants 180 targets a season, and who only cares about his stats and endorsements rather than winning? If that’s the guy being traded, then the Packers should probably pass.
Unless it’s not going to cost very much. Even if that entire paragraph of negatives is true about Antonio Brown, he’s a transcendent football talent. If the Packers can’t handle him being on their team for even one season, that doesn’t speak very kindly about the strength of the culture that exists in Green Bay. If all it takes to get him is a third-round pick, or a third and a fifth, the Packers should consider it.
If he’s a diva again, deal him again. There will always be teams like Oakland, Miami, and New York who are poorly run and would love a star player. Give up a mid-round pick or two, knowing at least part of that value can be recouped in a year. In the meantime, the Packers get one of the three of four best receivers in football to make a run in Year One with LaFleur. It’s the kind of move the Patriots would make (see also: Moss, Randy) while the Packers almost make them (see also: Moss, Randy).
Brown, vexed by his situation in Pittsburgh, may see Green Bay as a respite. For pro athletes, the grass always seems greener, but the lawn may actually be much better with Aaron Rodgers and a re-energized organization. Not to mention a fanbase who will deify Brown precisely the way he appears to desire.
If the price is as low as it would likely need to be for the Packers to consider it, there will certainly be other teams interested in making a deal. Given the Cowboys just gave up a first for Amari Cooper, it’s hard to imagine the Steelers fetching significantly less for a better player on a value contract. But even so, the fit in Green Bay would be among the best in the league.
It doesn’t appear likely the Packers would be interested, but if they are, the machinations of a Brown deal aren’t all the complicated and there are plenty of reasons to consider it. Bringing in Brown could mitigate the need for high draft picks on a tight end or a pass-catching back. Being able to get the ball out quickly to a receiver who wins early makes life easier on an offensive line with a hole at right guard. And the ability to put up 30 points at will with Brown and Davante Adams eases the burden on a defense beset by injuries seemingly every season.
The reasons to make a deal are clear and obvious, but the financial structure of his contract lessens the risk. The question should be at what point does the cost to acquire him because worth the risk, relative to the upside? And more importantly, is that enough to get AB? With a deadline looming in March, we’ll find out very soon if the Packers are in on the next big fish on the trade market.