Why the 49ers should avoid trading for Antonio Brown

JACKSONVILLE, FL - NOVEMBER 18: Antonio Brown #84 of the Pittsburgh Steelers waits on the field before their game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at TIAA Bank Field on November 18, 2018 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
JACKSONVILLE, FL - NOVEMBER 18: Antonio Brown #84 of the Pittsburgh Steelers waits on the field before their game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at TIAA Bank Field on November 18, 2018 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images) /

The San Francisco 49ers have many decisions to make this offseason.  The decision to pass on trading for Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown should be an easy one.

NFL teams hold onto 30-year-old franchise wide receivers like a 14-year-old boy holds on to images of the first pinup he found under his older brother’s mattress. Both are clung to until they fade or something better comes along.

So how does a team’s brightest star all of a sudden become available to the highest bidder? In the case of Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown, the cause is a culmination of incidents and behaviors that finally moved the needle into the red.

A crumbling relationship with Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger went public when Roethlisberger called out Brown for poor route running. Brown then failed to show up for the Saturday walkthrough before their Week 17 game. In that must-win game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin benched Brown. In the Steelers’ eyes, they have given Brown more latitude than any other player in the past because of his ability. Feeling he wasn’t being respected, it was reported that Brown then requested a trade.

Pittsburgh, tired of the drama, appears ready to oblige.

San Francisco 49ers fans, once apathetic to the Steelers’ plight, are now salivating. Brown has made it public that he would like to carry on in the tradition of elite Niners receivers. Would he be more Dwight Clark or Terrell Owens?

Through nine seasons in the NFL, Brown is a four-time All-Pro and was selected to his seventh Pro Bowl this year. Arguably the best wide receiver in the NFL, over the last six years, Brown has not had less than 101 catches or 1250 yards.

Yet the 49ers should not trade for him.

Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, tight end George Kittle, running back Jerick Mckinnon and Brown all clad in Niners scarlet and gold would strike fear into opposing defenses. Brown would make the 49ers offense better. On the other side of the scale is the immediate and potential opportunity cost of acquiring the wide receiver.

It is estimated the Niners will have approximately $60-plus million in cap space for the 2019 season. A large number by virtually any standard. Still owed more than $60 million, Brown would burn more than $22 million of that 2019 cap space. The 49ers are coming off of a four-win season. Wide receiver is a position that needs improvement. So does defensive line, linebacker and defensive back. Additionally, every position on the team outside of quarterback needs added depth. A leaking dam won’t hold if you plug one hole with concrete and the others with bubble gum. San Francisco would be better served spending that money on multiple positions of need.

Best case scenario in this year’s draft: The Niners have a draft pick in Rounds 1 through 4, Round 6 and another sixth-round compensatory pick — the allocation is still to be determined by the league.

That is six total picks.

In what is the most important draft in the current rebuild, general manager John Lynch does not have the luxury of missing on any of those six selections. A player of Brown’s skill would further deplete an already diminished reservoir of draft capital. A team under construction can’t afford to get rid of two-by-fours for a shiny decorative front door when it’s already short on lumber.

Drafted in the sixth round of the 2010 NFL Draft, the Steelers weren’t sure Brown would make the team his rookie year. Having a steep learning curve in his first year, Brown put his head down and started grinding. Widely acknowledged as one of the hardest working receivers in the league, Brown sweat his way to becoming an elite player.

Eight years after that difficult rookie campaign, Brown will turn 31 years old in July. As of this writing, that would make him the second oldest player on the 49ers behind the 34-year-old tackle, Joe Staley.

In some cases the addition of a veteran presence can help stabilize a team, adding value in the locker room. See: cornerback Richard Sherman.

A prima donna wide receiver, that is forcing his way off a team with Super Bowl aspirations, does not fit the definition of a veteran stabilizing force. In fact, a volatile personality can have the exact opposite effect on a young team that is learning how to win. Lynch has previously stated that he puts a high premium on team chemistry. Trading for Brown would seem to fly in the face of that. Add this to the fact that, Brown is in his prime.

In a perfect world the 49ers should look to 2020 as the year they can expect to be legitimate contenders for a championship. Brown would need to maintain his peak performance to age 33 to justify the price that would need to be paid in trade. Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant just turned 30 years old, couldn’t find an NFL team until well into the season then was lost to injury for the year. 49ers wide receiver Pierre Garcon was 32 years old this year. He hasn’t been able to stay healthy and put together the worst season of his career since he was a rookie.

Wide receiver is a young man’s position. The drop off of a receiver from 30 to 33 years old is real. A player’s body becomes more injury prone, losing strength and speed. Adding that the Niners would be on the hook for over $19 million in salary to Brown in 2020, and the argument against adding him to the team begins to come into better focus.

It has recently been reported that Brown was involved in a domestic dispute in January. While Brown and his lawyers state the allegations are false, this should be enough to close the book on his acquisition. The one lesson Lynch and the 49ers front office learned last season is that they don’t want to roll the dice on player character again.

Linebacker Reuben Foster taught them that the hard way. Releasing Foster after multiple off-the-field issues is not a path the Niners want to go down with another player.

dark. Next. 5 free agents the San Francisco 49ers need to avoid in 2019

There is no word on any communication between the Steelers and 49ers regarding Brown, yet. He has made it quite clear that he would love to come be the star of head coach Kyle Shanahan‘s band.

The problem is that the final note for that band has already been struck.