Antonio Brown Saga Appears to Have Reached Its End in Oakland Express News
ALAMEDA, Calif. — The Oakland Raiders appeared to have agreed on a deal Saturday night to acquire the prolific but disgruntled wide receiver Antonio Brown from the Pittsburgh Steelers, with an expectation that the team will give him the lucrative contract he wanted.
The deal, which cannot be completed until the new league year starts on Wednesday, has yet to be acknowledged by either team, but it was reported by multiple news outlets on Saturday and was confirmed by Brown and several other Oakland players on social media. Brown posted a picture of himself in a Raiders uniform, and his new teammates began eagerly welcoming him to the organization.
The trade, which is reportedly in exchange for two draft picks (in the third and fifth rounds), would make final what became a very messy and very public divorce between the sixth-round pick Brown and the team that helped turn him into arguably the greatest wide receiver of his generation.
It would also give the Raiders a high-profile acquisition for Coach Jon Gruden, whose first year was defined largely by the team’s trading away Khalil Mack, a dominant edge rusher, and Amari Cooper, its most talented receiver. Gruden and members of the team’s front office repeatedly denied that Oakland was in a rebuilding year, but the team went 4-12.
Oakland received first-round picks in both of those trades but appeared not to have given up any of its four picks in the top 35 in this year’s draft to acquire Brown, who has topped 100 receptions and 1,200 yards receiving in each of the past six seasons. Only one Raider, the Hall of Famer Tim Brown in 1997, has reached those figures in a single season.
Brown would be quarterback Derek Carr’s biggest offensive weapon since Carr entered the league in 2014, and the Raiders now have a legitimate star before their move to Las Vegas for the 2020 season.
The Raiders’ top wide receiver last season was Jordy Nelson, who had just 63 catches for 739 yards.
Gruden publicly admired Brown during his time as a broadcaster and had nothing but praise for him before the teams played last December.
“He’s the hardest-working man, I think, in football,” Gruden said. “Hardest-working player I’ve ever seen practice. I’ve seen Jerry Rice — I’ve seen a lot of good ones — but I put Antonio Brown at the top. If there are any young wideouts out there, I’d go watch him practice. You figure out yourself why he’s such a good player.”
Brown is no stranger to drawing headlines for both his prolific on-field production and his off-the-field antics, which have included live-streaming from the locker room after a playoff victory over Kansas City in January 2017 and being pulled over for driving at 100 miles per hour in the Pittsburgh suburbs last fall.
The sometimes tumultuous relationship between Brown, the only player in N.F.L. history with six straight 100-catch seasons, and the franchise that made him the highest-paid player at his position in the spring of 2017 reached a breaking point in late December.
Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin benched Brown during the regular-season finale against Cincinnati after Brown had been unreachable in the final 48 hours before the game. Brown arrived in a fur coat, stayed for a half and then disappeared until well after his teammates had cleaned out their lockers following a 9-6-1 finish that left Pittsburgh out of the playoffs for the first time since 2013.
When Brown did resurface, he began engaging in a series of increasingly antagonistic acts designed to expedite his departure. He went on Instagram with the former Steelers linebacker James Harrison during Tomlin’s news conference wrapping up the season. He criticized what he called quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s “owner’s mentality” and chastised Tomlin for disciplining him in Week 17, no matter that Tomlin and the rest of the organization had spent years playing down Brown’s off-the-field eccentricities.
Brown formally requested a trade last month, but not before posting a photo online of a No. 84 San Francisco 49ers jersey or using his social media feeds to indicate not only his displeasure with the Steelers but also his interest in signing a new deal with whoever would acquire his services.
Even with his benching in the finale, Brown finished the season with 104 receptions for 1,297 yards and a franchise-record and N.F.L.-high 15 touchdowns. His final performance in a Pittsburgh uniform might have been one of his best, a 14-reception, 185-yard, two-touchdown masterpiece in a road loss to New Orleans.
A week later, Brown, who had once said he wanted to retire a Steeler, did not even suit up against the Bengals. Just over two months later, he appears to be about to find himself heading into the second act of a career that is on a Hall of Fame trajectory. The Steelers, meanwhile, would have a hole at receiver and would have more than $21 million in dead money on their salary cap as a result of the trade.