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Should the Colts trade for Antonio Brown?

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Reports have surfaced that Antonio Brown has requested a trade from Pittsburgh, due to conflicts with Mike Tomlin and Ben Roethlisberger. Ian Rapoport reported that Brown is extremely frustrated with the organization, and while he didn’t actually request a trade, moving him may still be a possibility.

It’s worth noting that Chris Ballard is unlikely to make this type of trade and it will be tough to pull off, but this article explores when and how a trade would be worth it for the Colts.

Antonio Brown’s Value

Antonio Brown’s stats over the last four seasons are nothing short of sensational. In the 60 games he’s played in the past 4 seasons (he’s missed four games), he has amassed:

  • 447 Catches (7.5 per game)
  • 5948 Yards (99 per game)
  • 46 Touchdowns (3 every 4 games)

Those numbers would put him at the top of any list in NFL history for receiving stats over a four year span. From 2014 to 2017, his numbers were even better. He amassed:

  • 472 Catches (7.7 per game)
  • 6349 Yards (104 per game)
  • 44 Touchdowns (5 every 7 games)

If you compared the best four year stretch of Jerry Rice’s career, his numbers would look like this:

  • 440 Catches (6.9 per game)
  • 6104 Yards (95 per game)
  • 51 Touchdowns (4 every 5 games)

I would argue that Antonio Brown is one of the top 7 receivers all time and still has at least 2-3 elite years left in him.

What It Would Take for the Colts to Get Him

If Amari Cooper was worth a first round pick, then Antonio Brown is at least that. Despite the fact that Cooper is 24 years old (6 years younger than Brown) and still on a rookie contract, Brown is in the prime of his career and is arguably the best receiver in the NFL.

If we look at the Khalil Mack trade, the Bears received two first round picks in consecutive years as well as a future 3rd round pick, but also had to give up a 2020 second round pick. Mack was 27 at the time of the trade and entering his athletic prime with a couple of All-Pro seasons under his belt.

I would say Brown is somewhere in-between Mack and Cooper. Mack is a pass rusher, arguably the second most important position on a football team. He is one of the best in the league and in the middle of his prime. Brown is better than Cooper but Cooper is younger and has a very high ceiling, placing Brown’s value only slightly higher than Cooper’s.

I see Brown as someone who deserves a 2019 1st round pick, 2019 5th round pick and a 2020 3rd round pick.

The Need for a Receiver

I would argue that receiver is the biggest need on the Colts roster. The most productive receiver after TY Hilton is Chester Rogers, who is likely a depth receiver on most teams. Ryan Grant and Dontrelle Inman round out the Colts’ top 4, and I would argue that only Hilton has played like a legitimate starting receiver this season.

Receiver and will likely be a top priority heading into the offseason.

The Contract Situation

This is where it gets tricky. The first issue is his dead cap hit. Brown restructured his deal to free up more cap space for the 2018 season, but his future years’ cap hits increased as a result. If the Steelers traded him tomorrow it would only gain $1,000,000 in cap savings for 2019, which is essentially meaningless.

Before June 1st, it’ll be almost impossible for the Steelers to trade away Antonio Brown.

After June 1st, the deal becomes a lot more manageable.

Below are two screenshots that help that help describe the situation.

In short, this deal needs to happen after June 1st.

Is it Worth it?

It depends.

The Colts have the pieces to win now and adding the top receiver in football would fill the Colts’ biggest immediate need in a big way. They have the cap room to afford his contract, even if it means they have to take on some dead cap space to make the trade happen.

If he were to be traded before June 1st, the Colts would likely have to take on a good portion of his dead cap hit and give up a 1st round pick and probably another pick in the top 3 rounds this or next year’s draft. The capital required is still very high and the Steelers would likely gain very little financially. It’s NOT worth it for the Colts if the trade happens BEFORE June 1st.

After June 1st, things change. I expect the Colts would have to give up a 1st and 3rd round pick in the 2020 NFL draft if it happens in the summer. It will make more sense because the Colts will have their 2019 draft haul and their priority free agents already on the roster. Brown could be a final piece to round out the roster. The big kicker is the money. After June 1st, the Steelers save $15,000,000 in 2019, $11,300,000 in 2020 and $12,500,000 in 2021 — providing a legitimate financial incentive to make a trade. The Colts can handle Brown’s cap hit with ease, so it IS worth it for the Colts if the trade happens AFTER June 1st.

Knowing Chris Ballard’s style, he will likely avoid this high profile trade, but if the Colts were to pull it off after June 1st, it would be worth it and provide a huge boost for the offense.