COOK: Steelers should aggressively pursue Brown deal

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (TNS)
  • The Pittsburgh Steelers should aggressively seek trade offers for Antonio Brown.
  • Brown is a great player, but he can also be a great distraction.
  • Brown could also soon become very costly, pulling down a deal in the $35 to $45 million range.

Let’s start with the three primary reasons the Steelers should keep Antonio Brown by signing him to a long-term contract that could guarantee him somewhere in the filthy rich neighborhood of $35 million to $45 million.

He is a great player, arguably the best on the club.

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown wants to be a "Steeler for life."

He is its hardest worker if James Harrison isn’t.

He might be the best receiver in football, a guy who should be able to help you win Super Bowls.

Now, the three top reasons the Steelers should at least look into trading Brown before he goes into the final year of his contract next season:

He will turn 29 in July and easily could break down or slow down by the time his new long-term deal ends.

He has caused so many distractions with his silly, look-at-me antics that more than a few of his teammates are tired of it.

It’s silly to give so much money to a receiver who touches the ball just seven or eight times a game when that money could go to making the team stronger at another position or two.

My suggestion to the Steelers?

Aggressively seek trade offers for Brown.

I’m not suggesting the team give him away for a fifth-round draft choice the way it did Super Bowl XLIII MVP Santonio Holmes after the 2009 season. I’m just saying there might be a deal out there that could make the Steelers a better club. With Brown, the Steelers are 0-for-7 as far as winning Super Bowls.

Distractions a real issue: The distractions are a real problem. Brown’s three excessive celebrations penalties early in the season were bad enough. But there was the incident in the first Miami game when he jogged back to the line of scrimmage, delaying his teammates from running their 2-minute offense. In more than one game, when he wasn’t happy with how he was being used, he frequently ran the wrong patterns, either because of a lack of focus or — worse — intentionally. It happened a week ago in the AFC championship. That’s inexcusable.

Then, there was the infamous Facebook Live video that Brown shot in the Steelers locker room after their playoff win Jan. 15 in Kansas City. Mike Tomlin loves Brown’s talent and commitment to football, but that video stunt infuriated him to the point he chastised Brown publicly and hinted that enough distractions could lead him to another team the way they did, say, Terrell Owens and Randy Moss. Of course, Tomlin has to take some blame because he helped create the monster side of Brown by letting him get away with the celebration penalties and the pouting. It’s like he keeps hoping Brown grows up, but Brown is no kid. Brown is not a bad guy or malicious person. He’s just not all that smart. It’s hard to imagine him changing now. It’s hard to imagine Tomlin being strong enough to force him to change.

Salary cap a bigger concern: But the salary-cap issue with Brown is an even bigger concern. The Steelers are going to have to pay big money to keep Le’Veon Bell, presumably by putting their franchise tag on him for next season. They also need to invest heavily in Stephon Tuitt, whose contract expires after next season. I just can’t justify giving a receiver quarterback-like money or even running back-like money. I don’t care how good he is.

And how about this perspective about Brown and Ben Roethlisberger from former Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor via the NFL Network?

“Without 7, there is no A.B. Take 7 out of the equation, it might be a little different.”

I like Ike in this instance.

Steelers not afraid to let talented receivers walk: The Steelers have not been afraid to allow talented receivers to leave, although none was as terrific as Brown. In addition to Holmes, there was Plaxico Burress, who left when the team decided to pay Hines Ward instead; Mike Wallace, whom the team wanted to keep but couldn’t because Wallace balked at their contract offer with the money quickly going to Brown instead; and Emmanuel Sanders, who left as a free agent. Unlike with cornerbacks, the Steelers have drafted well with receivers with Brown coming in the sixth round of the 2010 draft the best example.

The Steelers have a chance to have a strong receiving group next season even if Brown is moved. Assuming Roethlisberger plays — that’s a 100 percent certainty to me — he could throw to Martavis Bryant, Sammie Coates, Eli Rogers, Ladarius Green, Jesse James and perhaps a rookie taken high in the 2017 draft. That might not be such an awful group. It’s at least something to consider if Brown can bring help in a trade to another position, perhaps cornerback or edge rusher.

Can you count on Bryant, Green, Coates? I get that it is impossible to fully count on Bryant, Green and even Coates. Bryant was suspended for four games at the start of the 2015 season and for all of this season because of marijuana issues. Green has had repeated concussions and wasn’t available for the Steelers in the playoffs. Coates was a non-factor in the second half of the season because of an injury to his fingers/?hand and dropped a long pass early against the Patriots, a potentially game-changing play.

Bryant is the most important player of the three. Roethlisberger was his biggest supporter when he was suspended in 2015, texting him every day. “I started crying and everything because it meant a lot for him to show that he cared,” Bryant said late last season. But Roethlisberger soured on Bryant after he was suspended for 2016 because he felt Bryant lied to him. Give Bryant credit for having the sense to reach out to Roethlisberger late this season to try to rebuild their relationship. Roethlisberger quickly will fall in love again with Bryant’s big-play ability if he shows he can stay clean.

Green showed promise in the few games he played this season. Remember his six-catch, 110-yard, one-touchdown outing against the New York Giants? Coates showed even more promise with catches of 72, 53, 47, 44, 42 and 41 yards in the first five games. With healthy fingers next season, he should be able to do great things again.

Time to listen to trade offers: I definitely am willing to listen to trade offers for Brown.

If I don’t like my return, I keep him for another season. But I’m not going to give him $45 million guaranteed.