Herschel Walker, Antonio Brown & The Value In Knowing When To Let Go
Before any of you die-hard Steelers fans start doing a Sanford and Sons imitation ("It's the big one! I'm coming, Chuck Knoll!"), just hear me out.
In 1989, the Dallas Cowboys looked like a team Adam Sandler would put together to beat some prison guards. Almost all of their personnel was too old, too lazy, or too talentless to be any sort of factor against the Joe Montana 49ers, or even the Mark Rypien Washington Redskins. Jimmy Johnson recognized this, and made a decision which had Dallas fans wanting to upchuck right down the front of their Reba shirts.
The Cowboys best player at the time was Herschel Walker, who dominated in the USFL before being scooped up by the Cowboys and leading the league in rushing on a garbage team. Jimmy saw opportunity in the form of an overly-enthusiastic Vikings GM, Mark Lynn, who saw Walker as the missing piece for a Super Bowl run.
In a nutshell, Jimmy Johnson managed to strike a killer deal with Lynn in draft picks, and then sweetened the deal even further by cutting a few of the players the Cowboys received from the Vikings in the trade, thereby gaining even more draft picks, and completely fucking over Lynn. Johnson then used those picks and orchestrated a few trades, ultimately landing Emmitt Smith, Russell Maryland, Charles Haley, Darren Woodson, and Alvin Harper, to name a few. In other words, Jimmy traded one Pro Bowl player to pick up a fistful of others, and three championships.
This brings me to today, and the speculation surrounding how to handle the Antonio Brown situation in Pittsburgh. The fact that we even have to call it "The Antonio Brown Situation" speaks volumes, but let's indulge a bit.
One player does not make a franchise. LaDainian Tomlinson did not get the Chargers their first Lombardi Trophy. Dan Marino didn't get to hoist it either, even when the evil genius that is Jimmy Johnson was on his sidelines. Antonio Brown is a rare talent, but the Steelers simply do not need him to succeed.
Rumor has it that Brown, who has been a polarizing personality and a locker room distraction, feels that he deserves to be paid as one of the top receivers in the league. In spite of his clownish behavior, I am inclined to agree with him. He is probably second only to Julio Jones as a receiver and he deserves elite money. But should the Rooney family be signing those checks? Not if they want to maintain their winning tradition.
There are essentially two options when it comes to Brown: 1.) Incur a debilitating salary hit and plug one leak on the Steelers boat, or 2.) Deal him and have the opportunity to plug up EVERY leak through the draft and free agency. The Steelers proved this year that they have a great deal of potential by making a deep playoff appearance, but also proved that they were disorganized, undisciplined, and lacked a few key participants for a championship run. Yes, Martavis Bryant is a joke. Yes, Sammy Coates is looking like a headache. Yes, Ladarius Green is a literal headache and may not ever play another down in the NFL. I think lots of people look at the gaps left by these receivers and panic, but through some shifty maneuvering, the Steelers could actually stand to benefit from letting some of these pieces go alongside AB.
A team which stands out for me as a good trade spot for Brown is the Philadelphia Eagles. I think Philly would practically salivate at the potential of pairing AB with their young quarterback and finally emerging from their station as the little step brother of the NFC East. Pittsburgh could easily leverage a kings ransom of draft picks from the Eagles and maybe even grab a player or two. One player which stands out for me is Dorial Green-Beckham, who was compared to Calvin Johnson when he was drafted and flashed potential for two mediocre teams. Green-Beckham, alongside some draft picks could give Pittsburgh a boost and save on some cap space. What to do with that cap space, you ask? Why not make a play for DeSean Jackson in free agency to provide some speed and a veteran presence at the wide receiver position? The Steelers have proven that they are more than capable of securing strong draft picks, so boosting the receiving core could be done solely through the trade with the Eagles and working free agency. Also, Martavis Bryant may emerge from a cloud of pot smoke and step in for the Steelers again, pending some league decisions.
When you look at what the Steelers stand to gain from dealing the troublesome (however talented) Brown, any other choice seems silly. Will the trade yield as much benefit as the Great Trade Robbery of 1989? Maybe or maybe not. But I think the risk is well worth the potential reward.