So, what happened? Why did you go to bed Thursday night thinking Antonio Brown was going to be a Buffalo Bills wide receiver, but woke up Friday only to find out it wasn’t happening?
Earlier this week, the Bills and Steelers started engaging in trade discussions for Brown. A league source told me things moved relatively fast. Remember earlier in the week when it was reported that the Steelers expected to have a deal in place for Brown by Friday? The Bills were certainly one of the teams - if not the team - they felt they were on track with to make a deal. And the Steelers were (and presumably still are) highly motivated to move Brown.
That’s where Ian Rapoport’s late Thursday night report comes in. The NFL insider reported that the two teams were “closing in” on a deal and later reported the deal was “close to being done.”
If that were the case, but the deal wasn’t complete, it makes no sense for the Bills to let it be known. It makes a lot of sense for the motivated Steelers side to want to have that information out there in order to put a little pressure on the Bills to get the deal done.
Many have speculated and even reported that once the trade was agreed upon, or very close, Brown said he either wouldn’t report to the Bills, or at least wouldn’t commit to reporting to Buffalo. It’s important to remember that the Steelers have never knowingly given permission to Brown or his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, to have discussions with another team. In fact, it had been reported last month that the Steelers wouldn’t give that permission. So the Bills couldn’t have spoken with Brown or Rosenhaus directly about a potential deal and his feelings on landing in Buffalo. They could, however, hear through third parties that Brown was balking at coming to Buffalo and the Bills simply may have not wanted to deal with that sort of situation.
It also could have been final compensation that ultimately nixed the deal. Just because things are close doesn’t mean they are finalized, and either side could have walked away before a final agreement.
There’s also a money and bonus issue that could have been at play. Brown is due a $2.5 million roster bonus on March 17. Whichever team he’s a member of on that date will be responsible for that cash and cap hit, on top of his $12.625 million base salary. The new league year begins on March 13. That’s the first day Brown can actually be traded by Pittsburgh, but also still four days before his bonus is due. If the Steelers deal him before then, the new team pays it. If after that date, they are still on the hook for that money and the new team gets him for $2.5 million less. So that leaves plenty of room to speculate that the bonus could be at play and a discussion point in any Brown deal. From the Bills' perspective, even though they have close to $80 million in salary cap space available, they at least have to think about paying a $2.5 million cash bonus that goes against their cap for a player that ultimately won't even be on their roster, if he truly decided not to report to them.
Bills fans probably ran though a roller coaster of emotions since late Thursday night and into Friday morning. Landing a player like Brown, which appeared imminent for at least a little while, would be a huge get for a team that desperately needs help at wideout and is looking to rebuild an offense around young quarterback Josh Allen. It would instantly give them not only a legitimate No. 1 receiver, but one of the best in the game.
Seeing the deal fall apart is just another disappointment for any fan who wanted it to happen and thought it would. A “hear we go again” mentality of fans who have constantly been told by outsiders that Buffalo is a place no one - especially big-time stars - want to play.
Now that we know the Bills are willing to, at the very least, engage in talks for this type of deal, it opens the door for a lot more speculation and possibilities of what else they might be willing to do, who they may pursue, and what the rest of the offseason holds.
A.J. Green? Julio Jones? Even Odell Beckham, Jr.? Nothing should be ruled out now, whether that involves trades for players or draft picks, what free agents they may target, and how aggressive they’ll be in their pursuit for them.