Antonio Brown is trying to force his way out of Pittsburgh. He’s been torching Mike Tomlin and especially Ben Roethlisberger on Twitter, making it harder for the Steelers to keep him. Whatever team winds up with Brown will have to calculate what exact they’re getting.
Brown is probably still one of the top 5 wide receivers in the game (maybe top 3). But he’s not as dynamic and explosive as he was four years ago. Brown will be 31 when training camp opens, and that’s past the point where receivers tend to play their best and most outstanding ball.
Consider, for example, the fates of previous superstar receivers. Many others have tended to dip as they moved into their 30s. Randy Moss, for example, became a very ordinary wide receiver at 33 – dumped by two different teams that year.
I worked through a little experiment. I took the top 10 receivers of each year of this century – that’s 180 wide receivers for the 2000-2017 seasons. Then I looked at which ones declined the most statistically the next season, using standard scoring.
Of the 22 biggest decliners, 10 were at least 31 years old (like Brown will be this year). Another three were 30 years old.
Every player is different, of course. Jordy Nelson happened to blow out his knee when he was 30, and Calvin Johnson retired. But the trend is for players to slow down as they get older. But plenty of older receivers declined (and I’ve tagged the 31-year-olds with black dots).
|DECLINING TOP-10 RECEIVERS (since 2000)|
|2015||Jordy Nelson, G.B.||30||0||0||0||98-1519-13|
|2005||Javon Walker, G.B.||27||2||31||0||89-1382-12|
|2014||Josh Gordon, Clev.||23||24||303||0||87-1646-9|
|2007||• Marvin Harrison, Ind.||35||20||247||1||95-1366-12|
|2016||• Calvin Johnson, Det.||31||0||0||0||88-1214-9|
|2001||• Ed McCaffrey, Den.||33||6||94||1||101-1317-9|
|2015||Dez Bryant, Dall.||27||31||401||3||88-1320-16|
|2002||David Boston, Ariz.||24||32||512||1||98-1598-8|
|2017||Odell Beckham, NYG||25||25||302||3||101-1367-10|
|2007||Javon Walker, Den.||29||26||287||0||69-1084-9|
|2005||• Joe Horn, N.O.||33||48||561||1||94-1399-11|
|2005||• Muhsin Muhammad, Chi.||32||58||738||4||93-1405-16|
|2010||Sidney Rice, Minn.||24||17||280||2||83-1312-8|
|2016||• Brandon Marshall, NYJ||32||59||788||3||109-1502-14|
|2010||• Randy Moss, 3 tms||33||28||393||5||83-1264-13|
|2001||Derrick Alexander, K.C.||30||27||470||3||78-1391-10|
|2010||Vincent Jackson, S.D.||27||14||248||3||68-1167-9|
|2004||• Keenan McCardell, S.D.||34||31||393||1||84-1174-9|
|2017||• Jordy Nelson, G.B.||32||53||482||6||97-1257-14|
|2004||Anquan Boldin, Ariz.||24||56||623||1||101-1377-8|
|2008||• Randy Moss, N.E.||31||69||1008||11||98-1493-23|
|2008||Chad Johnson, Cin.||30||53||540||4||93-1440-8|
Not that Brown is at the end of the road. He was very good at times last year. But he’s not as explosive and dynamic as he’s been in the past. For example, he used to score on a punt return most years; he doesn’t have that athleticism anymore. It’s reasonable to wonder if Brown will still be one of the league’s 10 best receivers in 2019 (and especially in 2020), when he slows down further.
The Steelers and other suitors also will have to figure out how much other “stuff” they’re willing to tolerate. Brown has been involved in a number of off-field incidents. And at times it seems like he’s more interested in showboating than winning games – he doesn’t seem to care if he costs his team 15-yard penalties for various antics. There was the bizarre deal in December where he went AWOL prior to their Week 17 game (with a playoff berth hanging in the balance).
With the way the financials work, it will be hard for the Steelers to get rid of him. He’s going to cost them at least $21 million, whether he’s on the team or not. At that kind of price Pittsburgh may just keep him around and try to recoup some of the value. They were willing to bite the salary cap bullet last year in their standoff with LeVeon Bell.
With Brown’s age and off-field baggage, they might not be able to find a team willing to give up much for him.