The Tennessee Titans’ reported pursuit of Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Antonio Brown is a bit shocking. It’s a situation that seems to completely contradict everything that general manager Jon Robinson and Mike Vrabel stand for.
In life, there is generally a clear distinction between decisions that are bold and decisions that are desperate. The Titans’ interest in Brown looks at face value to fall into the latter category.
For purely on-field purposes, the move would make some sense. Brown is one of the NFL’s most talented weapons on offense, and he has produced in a big way in each of the last six seasons.
Additionally, the Titans are in need of a playmaker to assist quarterback Marcus Mariota in a make or break season. They have some talented pieces on offense, but they certainly could stand to get a lot more explosive.
That’s about where the sense ends in this situation, though. There would be far more downsides than upsides if the Titans were to acquire Brown.
Mike Vrabel was asked about adding Antonio Brown or a player like him. Spoke to the importance of setting expectations of what’s acceptable in the locker room. pic.twitter.com/ex7T15OpsC
— TURRON DAVENPORT (@TDavenport_NFL) February 27, 2019
First, Brown is aging. He may not have shown signs of being affected by father time as of yet, but everybody’s time comes, and Brown will be 31 by the start of next season.
Next, Brown’s contract situation is less than favorable. With 3 years left on his current deal, Brown is still due over $60 million. While the Steelers would be forced to pay $22 million of that should they execute a trade, Brown will still be a major cap burden for any team that acquires him.
Third, trading for Brown would obviously require the Titans to part with a draft selection. With several young players on the verge of needing pricey contract extensions, the Titans need as much cheap talent as they can get.
Especially after last year’s class yielded only 3 worthwhile players, the Titans need as much draft capital as they can get.
There’s also no guarantee that Brown is a fit in the Titans’ offense, or that he will produce with a quarterback not named Ben Roethlisberger. Wasting cap space is one thing, but the potential of not getting a return on a high draft pick is a big risk to take.
Finally, and perhaps most significant, Brown has the potential to completely ruin the culture that the Titans have spent so many years crafting and developing. Over the last couple of months, his character has been revealed to be questionable at best.
Brown was one of the problems in a strongly plagued Steelers locker room last season. He mysteriously missed the team’s last game of the season, and his decision to request a trade has unfolded like an afternoon soap opera.
In a recent interview with ESPN‘s Jeff Darlington, Brown made multiple alarming comments. Chief among them was his “threat” to retire.
“I don’t even have to play football, bro,” Brown said in the interview. “I don’t even need the game. If they wanna play, they gonna play by my rules.”
The idea that Titans GM Jon Robinson is actively seeking to add a player who would say something like that is incredibly surprising. Regardless of talent, adding Brown would completely go against the ideals Robinson stands for.
Robinson has frequently said throughout his three years in Tennessee that he looks for players who are tough, coachable and who possess a team-first attitude. A wide receiver to demands that his team play by “his rules” with retirement as the punishment for not following through doesn’t exactly fit that mold.
When former Titans linebacker Brian Orakpo announced his retirement following the 2018 season, he mentioned the team’s culture as something he was very proud of.
Larry Fitzgerald doesn’t agree with how Antonio Brown has been handling his situation. pic.twitter.com/adt8Eg1T3p
— ESPN (@espn) March 2, 2019
“This is one of the few teams where we literally are brothers,” Orakpo said, “where you don’t have to worry about any distractions, anyone getting in any trouble, none of that B.S. that you see around the league. This is a group of a bunch of professional men who take their job extremely seriously, and we go out and play for one another.”
If you are a Titans fan who is pounding the table for the team to go after Brown, that quote should change your mind.
Obviously talent is important, and obviously, teams should want star players. But, it has been proven true time and time again that players whose personalities make them a pain to deal with ultimately aren’t worth the trouble. The Titans can find an explosive play-maker without compromising their tight-knit locker room.
At the NFL Scouting Combine last week, head coach Mike Vrabel addressed this very issue. “There’s a lot of things that you can put up with as a coach and a team,” he said, “and there are some things that you can’t. I think it’s important when you bring someone in from outside the organization, whether that be in free agency or you trade for a player, you just have to make sure that you’re comfortable with what you’re getting.”
Robinson and Vrabel have been good judges of character so far, but this could be their first big mistake.
If the Titans were to ultimately trade for Brown, implying that they are indeed “comfortable” with what they’re getting, it would be shocking to say the least.
Cover image: Derick E. Hingle/USA Today