Antonio Brown is still an elite talent at WR, but he’s not what the Tennessee Titans should be looking for this offseason.
WR Antonio Brown, a former sixth round pick, after years of historic production in Pittsburgh, looks to be on his way out. Even after putting up almost 1,300 yards and 15 touchdowns, tempers have boiled over in Pittsburgh and two of the team’s biggest stars — RB Le’Veon Bell and Brown — will more than likely suit up for other teams for the first time in their respective careers next season.
Looking at the Tennessee passing game in 2018, QB Marcus Mariota was certainly hindered by the loss of four of his top five receiving options: Delanie Walker, Rishard Matthews, Eric Decker, and DeMarco Murray. Corey Davis has developed nicely into a top receiving option, but injuries to the Titans’ top two tight ends and up and down campaigns from Tajae Sharpe and Taywan Taylor show a need for a solid number two receiving option to help Mariota and open up the offense even more.
With that in mind, adding an elite veteran receiver like Brown could be exactly what this team needs. At first thought, the combination of Brown and Davis could create nightmares for opposing defenses. However, trading for Brown would have a couple of major drawbacks that should lead to the Titans taking another route to improve their wide receiver room.
This is the first and one of the biggest reasons to stay away from Brown. When looking at the Titans’ championship window, it should far outlast the peak of Brown. With a roster full of young core players like Mariota, Derrick Henry, Davis, Adoree’ Jackson, Jack Conklin, Kevin Byard, Jayon Brown, Rashaan Evans, and Harold Landry all on their rookie deals, the Titans can be competitive for the next decade with this many promising young players.
Brown will go into next season at 31 years old and many of the league’s top receivers begin to decline at this point in their careers. Brown may age gracefully like a Randy Moss, or more recently Steve Smith, but he could also fall off completely in only a couple years like a Chad Johnson or Andre Johnson.
Furthermore, trading for Brown will not only be costly in terms of draft capital, but it will also cause cap issues for the Titans in the near future. He will be owed around $12,000,000 in base salary for the next three years, while his cap number for the next three years hover around $20,000,000 for each season. This is the exact timeframe that the Titans will need to start making tough decisions on their aforementioned young core and Brown’s hefty cap hit will only make these decisions tougher.
Brown Would Have a Diminished Role in the Titans Offense
Some have speculated that Steelers’ young star WR JuJu Smith-Schuster being named Team MVP over Brown may have caused some of the friction that led to his meltdown late in 2018. Brown is used to being the focal point of the Steelers offense and has been visibly upset on the field when Ben Roethlisberger has failed to deliver him the ball. After one such incident, Roethlisberger called him out for creating “a distraction that none of us really need.”
In the Titans offense, Brown would have to come to terms with the fact that the offense leans heavily on Derrick Henry and the run game. The Titans have not yet hired an offensive coordinator to replace departed Matt LaFleur, but the Titans have not had a high-volume passing attack in recent years. Furthermore, Brown will likely function as Mariota’s second or possibly even third receiving option behind Davis and potentially Walker due to Mariota’s familiarity with the two.
This is definitely not the situation that Brown is looking for. HC Mike Vrabel and the Titans’ locker room wouldn’t be willing to deal with a disgruntled veteran receiver, which might be what they get from Brown if he ends up in a diminished role with the Titans.
Deep Free Agent Wide Receiver Class
If the Titans are looking for a complementary wide receiver to start across from Davis, they will be unable to find anyone of Brown’s caliber in free agency. However, they can sign a receiver that might only be a step or two down from Brown for a fraction of the cost. Luckily for the Titans, they will have a bevy of options in a deep free agent WR class.
Productive veteran receivers looking for a new home include Larry Fitzgerald, Randall Cobb, and Golden Tate. The Titans could even take a risk on former stars like Dez Bryant or Mike Wallace coming off of injuries or even intriguing former busts like Tavon Austin, Kevin White, and Phillip Dorsett.
Furthermore, all of these options come without the hefty price of a first round pick. Some mock drafts have the Titans taking a wide receiver in the first round. Thus, it would make sense to trade that pick for a proven superstar at WR if only for a couple seasons, rather than hope to find a franchise talent at wide receiver in the first round.
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This line of thinking makes sense unless, like me, you believe that the Titans are better suited adding a DL or EDGE in the first round. By keeping their first round pick and only spending a moderate amount in free agency on a complementary receiver, the Titans have a lot more options and will have less of an issue retaining young talent in a couple of years.
Tennessee could sign a veteran receiver, throw money at a free agent pass rusher like Dee Ford or Jadeveon Clowney, then draft a DL in the first round like Clemson’s Dexter Lawrence. On the other hand, they could sign a defensive lineman like Ndamukong Suh or Grady Jarrett then draft an EDGE rusher like Brian Burns or Jachai Polite.
When you look at it, it comes down to whether the Titans want to: have Brown and the accompanying cap issues in the future OR three players at positions of need while simultaneously making it easier to retain a young core in the next couple of years. Looking at it that way, it’s clear that the Titans shouldn’t consider trading for Brown in the next couple months.