Talk of Trade: Business was Boomin’ but is a Decline Loomin’?

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]In case you took a vow to avoid all media as your New Years resolution you’ve already heard that Antonio Brown has been in the news lately. After a spat during practice with a teammate he decided not to show up for team activities during Week 17 and didn’t play in the final game versus the Cincinnati Bengals. There have been some rumblings that this isn’t the first issue with Brown within the organization and talk of a potential trade has surfaced.

Some are of the opinion that based on his off the field actions that the team should cut ties with the 4 time All-Pro wide receiver. My reaction to that is, of course: what are you, nuts?

On the field, he had a great season. He had 104 catches, going over 100 receptions for the sixth consecutive time in his career. He totaled over 1,100 yards for the seventh time in a season. He led the league, for the first time in his career, with 15 touchdown receptions. He’s at the top of his game. You don’t trade a guy based on that kind of current production. Heck no.

What about based off of future production?

Trading Brown isn’t as easy as it would seem. He has a cap hit of over $22 million for 2019 so that could cause some complications, but it could be possible.

Veteran Receiver Production

At the start of the 2019 season, his 10th, he’ll be 31 years old. There are plenty of WRs who have had multiple productive seasons from age 31 and after. Using the data from Pro Football Reference here is the top five based on total yardage over the last 30 years:

  • Jerry Rice played 12 seasons, went over 1,000 yards seven times and led the league in yards three times.
  • Tim Brown played eight seasons, went over 1,000 yards five times and led the league in receptions at 31.
  • Terrell Owens played seven seasons, went over 1,000 yards four times and led the league in TD’s at 33.
  • Irving Fryer played eight seasons and went over 1,000 yards four times.
  • Cris Carter played seven seasons, went over 1,000 yards five times and led the league in TD’s twice after 32.

One common theme with all of the players is they were all at least six feet tall and 195 pounds. Antonio Brown is listed at 5-foot-10, 181 pounds.  Not a huge difference physically but in this case it would seem size does matter.

Let’s change the data set to just look at receivers who were 5-foot-11 or shorter and weighed 185 pounds or less. Here is that top 5:

  • Steve Smith played seven seasons with three seasons over 1,000 yards.
  • Henry Ellard played seven seasons with three seasons over 1,000 yards.
  • Drew Hill played seven seasons with three seasons over 1,000 yards.
  • Terance Mathis played five seasons with two seasons over 1,000 yards.
  • Santana Moss played five years with one season over 1,000 yards.

Steve Smith was as physical as they come. The careers of Ellard, Mathis and Hill all ended at least 16 years ago. Moss’ numbers declined each of his final five seasons.

The active players on the list are Ted Ginn, DeSean Jackson an Emmanuel Sanders. They have a combined six seasons at age 31 or older with the biggest yardage total being 868 yards. Other than his rookie year, Brown has only finished below that number once.

So after business was boomin’, is a decline loomin’? Theoretically, based on how other receivers of similar size have performed, yes.

Predicting how a player will perform is not possible. You can use your crystal ball to try and predict or estimate what a player will produce from season to season but there are too many factors that can influence the outcome. An injury to the receiver or the quarterback throwing to him can have a huge effect on the production. And none of this is a guarantee on how Brown will perform in the coming years.

Trading Places

A trade would likely land them a couple draft picks and open up some cap space. If Pittsburgh is inclined to trade him, they’ll have to wait for the new league year to begin. There is a five day window in March from the 13th (new league season begins) to the 18th ($2.5 million roster bonus is due to Brown) where if they were going to trade him it would probably happen.

Here are some places to consider.

Carolina Panthers – Has a need for a number one receiver and the Steelers played the NFC South this year and won’t have to play that division for another four years.

Detroit Lions – Would be a good pairing with Kenny Golladay and the Steelers wouldn’t play the NFC North division for three more years.

Oakland Raiders – Has cap space, a need at WR and have 3 first round picks to use.  Would also be a nice piece to have for the move to Las Vegas.

New York Jets, Buffalo Bills, San Francisco 49ers – A need for a number one and would give a big boost to their young QB but do the Steelers want to face AB next year? Probably not.

Part of success is staying ahead of the curve so paying attention to patterns and trends is part of the evaluation process. If Brown were to get traded there will likely be multiple reasons why. Maybe the spectacle that this has become and the disappointing finish for the team overall will be the push that’s needed for Pittsburgh to look at all options. Then again by March, all could be forgiven and he could be back in good graces with the team and this could be moot point.

They say it’s better to get rid of player a year too early than a year too late. Which year is 2019?

Follow Tom on Twitter @THMead3. Check out his other work here, such as his look at how QB pay can diminish playoff chances, his draft preview of Senior Bowl participant Kentucky Edge Josh Allen or his look at if predicting the new NFL playoff teams is possible.

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