INDIANAPOLIS — The Patriots should pay real close attention to the Antonio Brown situation over the coming days and weeks heading into free agency.
Following how the season ended, with Brown not playing in the final game and then going off on the Steelers organization, it appears he has played his last game in Pittsburgh and will likely be traded.
Not only will his situation have some impact on the wide receiver free agent market, which the Patriots will fully be involved in, but don’t necessarily count the Patriots out in potentially swinging a trade for the star wide receiver.
There was some thought the Steelers would not deal Brown to an AFC North team or their prime competition in the AFC in the Patriots, but speaking at the NFL combine on Wednesday, general manager Kevin Colbert didn’t totally shut down that thought.
"We haven't eliminated anybody," Colbert said.
“Ideally, you want to trade him to somebody you’ll never play but you can’t do that, because if you’re good enough to get to the Super Bowl, you have to play him any way,” he added. “The less you would play him, the better, but if a team comes through with the best compensation, we have to balance that out. OK, we’re going to play him, twice a year, but we’re going to get the best compensation, so it’s our job to do the better job with the compensation and you have to weigh that all into the discussion.”
It’s unclear exactly what Brown’s trade value actually is — he’s signed for three more years on a relatively team-friendly deal given his talent, and is one of, if not the best, wide receivers in the league.
The Cowboys traded a first-round pick to Oakland for Amari Cooper during the season last year, so it would appear that’s a good starting point. But, with Cooper there were no off-field drama concerns like there are with Brown.
“Antonio Brown is one of the best players in the National Football League,” Colbert said. “We’d like to have him on our team so if you lose a player like that, if you decide to take a player like that off your team, you’d best have the compensation that will justify removing that player. And that would be a significant compensation either in the form of a draft pick or picks, or a player and picks, just so you can try to balance off the loss of a player like that.”
Let’s play this out from a Patriots standpoint…
It is pretty clear they need multiple receivers this offseason, both in the draft and via free agency. They also have 12 overall draft picks, and six selections in the top 101. What if the Steelers do not get offered any first-round picks in exchange for Brown, wouldn’t it make sense for the Patriots to offer their No. 32 selection?
Brown certainly is worth the value of a first-round pick and the team has 11 more selections to use to get the players they need, so it’s not like they would be blowing up their entire draft just to land Brown. If Colbert is true to his word, that could maybe have Brown coming to New England.
To get to this point, no other team would offer Pittsburgh its first-round pick, or a package of similar value, which isn’t totally impossible. And New England isn’t afraid to trade its first selection for a receiver, as it did it a few years ago with Brandin Cooks.
Landing Brown would be a huge boost for the Patriots’ receiving core, as he alongside Julian Edelman would take a lot of pressure off whoever else is brought in. A rookie along with a solid veteran, potentially even one of their own free agents like Phillip Dorsett, would make a solid grouping for Tom Brady to throw to.
Sure, it would come with a cost and taking on Brown’s salary — roughly $12 million in base salaries the next three seasons — but at least you know what you’re getting. There are numerous ways the team could free up some money to take on his deal, and if it means bringing in a player like Brown, players may be more apt to accept a pay cut to do it.
Acknowledging it is a long shot for it to actually happen, it’s still a situation worth monitoring because no matter what happens, it will impact all of the other free agent wide receivers and therefore directly impact the Patriots.
But, who knows? Stranger things have happened.