Fear and panic gripped Pittsburgh Steelers fans after reports surfaced this week that star wide receiver Antonio Brown refused to take an MRI exam on Friday and then missed practice on Saturday before the team’s all-important game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Apparently upset by Brown’s insubordination, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin refused to play Brown on Sunday.
For many people, the choices moving forward come down to either accepting Brown’s outlandish behavior and keeping him on the team or releasing him and accepting the fact that the Steelers are no longer Super Bowl contenders. But there is a third option.
Steelers Trading Antonio Brown For Draft a Pick Could Be Good
The third option, which could actually improve the Steelers, would be trading Brown for a high first-round draft pick. Acknowledged as the best wide receiver in the NFL, it shouldn’t be too hard for the Steelers to find a willing trading partner.
A trade undoubtedly would set off a bidding war as many teams in the NFL would fancy themselves Super Bowl contenders if they acquired Brown. The Detroit Lions, Buffalo Bills and Denver Broncos all have draft picks in the top ten this spring, and all three teams are lacking at wide receiver. Each of those teams could certainly use a receiver of Brown’s caliber and could be expected to show much interest in acquiring him.
Steelers Need Help on Defense
The Steelers could then use the draft pick acquired in the trade to bolster their defense. The Steelers haven’t really had a dominant All-Pro performer since safety Troy Polamalu retired after the 2014 season. Polamalu was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2010. He was an eight-time Pro Bowler and a six-time All Pro selection.
The Steelers also haven’t recovered from the likely career-ending injury suffered last year by star linebacker Ryan Shazier. They failed to replace him this past season and the results showed. The Steelers plummeted from a 13-3 record and a second seed in the playoffs last year to a 9-6-1 record this season and no postseason berth.
The Steelers desperately need someone to fill the big shoes left behind by Shazier’s injury. They also need a cornerback to bolster their below-average secondary. The Steelers lost four of their last six games to miss the playoffs. In all of those losses, teams mounted scoring drives in the waning minutes to win the games.
There’s no doubt that drafting a top-notch defensive player could help the Steelers. Overall, the Steelers finished 16th in points allowed, giving up an average of 22.5 points per game. That’s simply not good enough if Pittsburgh wants to be a true Super Bowl contender.
Speedy Wide Receiver Also Needed
The Steelers could then also used their own pick at number 20 to draft a wide receiver to replace Brown. Pittsburgh could really use a speedy receiver to take the place of Martavis Bryant, whom the Steelers traded to the Oakland Raiders before last year’s draft.
JuJu Smith-Shuster stepped up big in his second season with the Steelers. He was tied for sixth with 111 catches and ranked fifth with 1,426 receiving yards. Smith-Shuster was named MVP of the team by his teammates, a vote that reportedly angered Brown.
Smith-Shuster would already be the number one receiver on most teams. Rookie second-round wide receiver James Washington showed potential later in the year. Veteran wideout Eli Rogers came off the injury list late in the season and showed his talent and versatility.
Steelers must return to the run game
Even with the talented receivers they have on the roster, the Steelers could also use a return to the run game next season. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger led the NFL in passes attempted, passes completed and passing yards. But he also led the NFL in interceptions with 16.
The Steelers were next to last in rushing, averaging only 90 yards per game on the ground. They were also next to last in rushing attempts with 345. They were 24th in yards per carry, averaging 4.2 yards per tote.
The Steelers could also use some money they would save by trading Brown to acquire another running back to complement Conner, who missed several games with a high ankle sprain, and Jaylen Samuels, who showed flashes of brilliance as a rookie.
Several teams, such as the New England Patriots, have showed it’s better to rely on a stable of running backs rather than putting all your eggs in one basket.
In the end, the dealing of Brown could actually help the Steelers as they build up for another playoff run. The Steelers haven’t won a Super Bowl with Brown, and after his antics this past weekend, it’s likely that will never happen. But with a fortified defense and a renewed commitment to the run, the Steelers could improve on their disappointing 2018 season and get back in Super Bowl hunt next season.