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Antonio Brown trade proved to be addition by subtraction for Steelers

Vincent Frank
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers received a mere third and fifth-round pick in the off-season trade that sent All-Pro receiver Antonio Brown to the Oakland Raiders. The deal was so lopsided that the Madden franchise wouldn’t approve it.

Given Brown’s historical success in the Steel City, this didn’t seem to make Pittsburgh any better. After all, he had averaged 115 receptions for over 1,500 yards and 12 touchdowns over the previous six seasons.

Months later, that has not proven to be the case.

The big picture: Brown is currently away from Raiders training camp while dealing with a foot injury. According to various reports, he has not been in contact with the Raiders’ brass since pretty much going AWOL earlier in the summer.

How we got here: Brown’s rift with Ben Roethlisberger is by now well known. It’s what helped expedite the receiver’s departure from Pittsburgh. Sure this feud didn’t paint Big Ben in the best of lights, but the Steelers chose right in taking the quarterback’s side.

Brown remains a head case: Remember, this is the same receiver who did not report to the start of Oakland’s off-season program, even after signing a new deal.

  • Think about this for a second. Oakland yielded two valuable draft picks while in the midst of a rebuild to bring Brown aboard.
  • His response was a failure of epic proportions with Brown deciding against reporting to the start of OTAs.
  • Under second-year head coach Jon Gruden’s no-nonsense mentality, this immediately created a rift between Oakland’s brass and Brown.
  • It’s no different than the latter stages of Brown’s Hall of Fame-worthy career in Pittsburgh.

Addition by subtraction: Having boasted only three head coaches over the past half-century, the Steelers have been the representation of continuity around the NFL.

  • That changed to an extent last season. It seemed that Mike Tomlin had lost control of his locker room. This belief was spearheaded by Brown’s rift with at least one teammate.
  • This is no longer the case. Pittsburgh will move forward with running back James Conner and wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster as the face of its offense around Big Ben.
  • Gone are the days of Brown’s drama. Gone are the days of Le’Veon Bell’s holdout. The drama is no longer front and center in Pittsburgh.

The JuJu factor: Even last season, Smith-Schuster was better than Antonio Brown. It’s hard to ignore that fact.

  • Smith-Schuster put up 111 receptions for 1,426 yards and seven touchdowns last season. He calso caught 67 percent of the passes thrown in his direction.
  • For comparison’s sake, Brown nabbed 104 passes for 1,297 yards while catching a league-high 15 touchdowns.
  • Making matters more interesting is the fact that JuJu is set to count just $1.14 million against the cap while Brown is in the midst of a three-year, $50 million deal.
  • Let’s not even focus on the fact that Smith-Schuster has acted as a breath of fresh air in his short time in Pittsburgh.

Circling back to Brown: The current situation between this seven-time Pro Bowler and his new team can’t be seen as a good thing.

  • It’s one thing to suffer an injury in the offseason. It’s a completely different thing to keep your team in the dark.
  • Based on recent comments from Gruden, that’s exactly what Brown has done as he recovers from the toe injury.
  • Gruden also has not hid his disappointment regarding Brown’s absence from pretty much the entirety of training camp.
  • One now has to wonder if this relationship is broken before it even started. The Raiders won’t say this publicly. But something seems to be up behind the scenes.

It’s hard to argue that a team is better off without one of the top receivers in modern NFL history. But that’s exactly what we did here.

Pittsburgh needed to move on from the drama of last season. If selling Brown on the cheap was the cost, so be it. The past several months have proven this to a T.