Steelers Beat Writer

Dale Lolley is a contributor to the Observer-Reporter and has been covering the Pittsburgh Steelers since 1993.

INDIANAPOLIS – One of the biggest questions surrounding the Steelers, and the NFL in general, this offseason is what Pittsburgh can get for disgruntled wide receiver Antonio Brown via trade.

At this point, nobody, even the Steelers, knows exactly what Brown could bring on the open market. But everyone seems to have some ideas.

At least five teams have expressed interest in a trade for Brown, a number that could continue to grow in the days after the NFL Scouting Combine, which is currently taking place here until Tuesday.

“Everything is very preliminary,” Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said. “Coming out of this, I think there will be a change one way or another.”

The reason for that? NFL teams will have a much better idea regarding the players available in this year’s draft at the receiver position. The receivers took center stage Friday as they had interviews and medical tests. Then, Saturday they did their on-field workouts.

But this receiver group is lacking in star power, though it is considered deep. Unless Mississippi’s DK Metcalf – all 6-4, 230 pounds of him – blows up the Combine this weekend, there isn’t likely to be a receiver selected in the top dozen picks.

And if there aren’t any star-type receivers available in this draft, that could enhance Brown’s trade value because there also isn’t a star receiver available in free agency, which begins March 13.

I asked some national NFL media members what the market for Brown might be, based on what they are hearing from teams.

“I think a late first-round pick is realistic,” Alex Marvez of SiriusXM’s NFL Radio, said. “I really do. And then something to sweeten it, probably a mid-round pick. I think that’s realistic. Look, there’s no sign that AB’s production – or Mr. Big Chest – has fallen off. Last year: 104 catches, 15 touchdowns. Last time we saw him in a Steelers uniform, it was what, 14 catches for 156 yards? He was really good and that’s a really good Saints defense. So you’re still getting a receiver in his prime.”

Actually, it was 14 catches for 185 yards and two touchdowns in that game against the Saints, with most of that coming against Pro Bowl cornerback Marshon Lattimore and help.

Former ESPN NFL analyst John Clayton thought that might be a bit high for Brown.

“I had five teams, and maybe I’m going to be wrong about this, but I had the market at a third rounder,” Clayton said. “It could be less. It could be more. There are three teams with picks in the first four picks in the third round that I think are viable candidates. It’s the San Francisco 49ers. That’s the team that he wants to go to. That’s a team that needs a wide receiver. They could easily give up the second pick in the third round.

“It could be Oakland, sitting there with the fourth pick (in the third). They really need a wide receiver and Jon Gruden really likes what he’s seen of him, he’s said that for years about the work ethic of Antonio Brown. The team that intrigues me is the Green Bay Packers. Green Bay has two first-round picks. You’ve got Aaron Rodgers, who needs a little carrot. Give him something. He was mad about Jordy Nelson going, (quarterbacks coach) Alex Van Pelt not coming back, he was mad about the offensive playcalling of Mike McCarthy. Give him Antonio Brown and maybe toss them a second-round pick. The fifth team I had was the Denver Broncos. They would have to do a third and maybe a swap of picks, maybe in the sixth round.”

If, as Clayton suggests, there are multiple teams involved, the price could be driven up, especially considering what Marvez called “mitigating factors,” including how the potential draft prospects look.

“There is no No. 1 receiver in free agency. And there’s nobody who really excites you (in the draft), who you’re going to say is a top-10 pick,” Marvez said. “You’re not going to have receivers (in the draft) make that immediate impact. There’s no Julio (Jones), or Odell Beckham Jr., for that matter. There’s no hot prospect that makes you say, ‘Wow. I’ll move up.’ So, you put that together and it’s great value for Antonio Brown. As teams go through the Combine, they’re going to assemble their draft board and they’re going to see that. That’s where you’ll see things start to move forward with Antonio Brown.”

  • Trading one of the best players in the league in his prime is tough. While Colbert has talked about getting some form of equal value for Brown, it’s doubtful the Steelers will do so in the form of draft picks.

But what could happen, according to Clayton, is the team can get better by getting a better environment.

Clayton lives in Seattle and saw that happen in 2018 with the Seahawks, who went 9-7 in 2017 with an aging defense that had helped the team to a pair of Super Bowls. Seattle rid itself of many of those players and rebounded to go 10-6 in 2018.

The Steelers will not only be trading away Brown, they’re also going to allow Le’Veon Bell to reach free agency, ridding themselves of two of the most dynamic offensive players in the league, but also two players who have been at the center of some locker room controversies.

“They had eight guys that were Pro Bowlers as starters on defense and they went down to two,” Clayton said. “They wiped out the Legion of Boom. But they got a better locker room. They were less talented and they ended up winning 10 games.”

  • If there were odds on what the Steelers might do in free agency, leading the way would be signing a cornerback.

The Steelers, like many teams, haven’t had much success drafting cornerbacks. But they’re hardly alone. The four starting cornerbacks in the most recent Super Bowl were not drafted by the Rams and Patriots.

It’s also a position where guys move around regularly.

Dale Lolley covers the Steelers for and writes a Sunday column for the Observer-Reporter.

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