Can we at least talk about Antonio Brown?

Perhaps Bills' "culture" makes this a non-starter, but still...

Mike Schopp
February 14, 2019 - 11:05 am

Photo: Charles LeClaire - USA TODAY Sports

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Are the Pittsburgh Steelers going to trade Antonio Brown, or will the drama and difficulty of the last six weeks or so dissipate? If they choose to trade him, would the Steelers get a first-round pick in return? Is Brown at a point where self-obsession is about to usurp his playing talent, or do his six straight 100-catch seasons suffice to explain his dedication to the sport?

Would the Buffalo Bills consider trading for a star player who, essentially, quit on his team before its must-win regular season finale, let alone make that move? 

I don't know these answers. As far as the Bills go, I do want to be asking these questions.

If fans all over the NFL can debate whether their team should acquire a star player, why shouldn't we? Even if it's only a remote possibility that the Bills would even negotiate with the Steelers, the conversation alone gets you into important areas about the team. In this case, it's one of the Bills' most hotly debated areas -- just when do you compromise your beloved "culture" for a player with elite talents?

We've seen the Bills under Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane ship out players who they determined lacked something in or around the area of professionalism. The Bills considered Marcell Dareus lazy and/or undisciplined, so in the middle of last season they gave him to Jacksonville. The Bills' run defense then weakened and they managed only three points against Dareus' Jaguars in their first playoff appearance in 18 years. Last year, they had a massive amount of "dead cap"money, much of which was attributable to the Dareus trade -- $13.5 million out of $70 million, to be precise. Even after all that, I wouldn't expect the Bills to say they regret the move. They're trying to set standards.

This kind of idea appeals to many fans, which I suppose is an important benefit of it in and of itself. A coach pushing "culture" is a politician telling you he thinks your taxes should be lower. In both cases, you nod approvingly.

What I want is for my taxes to be lower, not for the politician to tell me he thinks they should be. Lower them. The coach is part-politician. Build "culture" all you want but you'd better win, and you don't have long to get there. 

I had a conversation with McDermott and Beane last season where they explained that for all the efforts they might make to establish "culture", they must allow for some compromise. Not everyone on your roster has to be, say, the model citizen-athlete.

What I wonder in the case of the Bills is, does this kind of "identity" really help them in player recruitment? This is a tough one. Certain players will want more freedom or responsibility than the Bills might offer. Others will want structure like this, but there hasn't been any winning yet that supports the overall effort. Stephon Gilmore after the Super Bowl gave a quote about how challenging playing for New England is. But he added, it's all worth it.

To say the Bills are not the Patriots is the understatement of the sports century. You can hold yourself as a disciplined outfit, and I suppose also find players who would consider that appealing, but if you don't have wins to show for it, what are those players buying into?

Additionally, we know the Bills have greater challenges in terms of the market size and climate. It's a big off-season for them -- one that was pointed to often last year and sometimes used as an excuse for their performance -- so they'd better be able to nail the interviews.

Brown, if you didn't know, is under contract for three more seasons. He has no real power in which trade offer the Steelers choose to accept. He goes where they send him, if they send him anywhere.

If you didn't have any reservations about Brown's character, you'd give Pittsburgh a second-round pick for him in a heartbeat. It's a position of weakness for the Bills and Brown is, well, the best receiver in the NFL. He has six consecutive seasons better than any season any Bills receiver has ever had. Come on.

I'd never tell you that you need to have Brown to win. You can choose to use that pick on a player who might blossom, maybe even a receiver. Anything can work.

The Bills probably will not make this trade, and it's possible the Steelers won't deal him anywhere. While I'd lean toward making it if it were possible, I'm not staunchly in favor.

What I do want from this situation is to debate it. If you're a team in the league that's the very least you can do. We don't have to be disqualified from discussions about star players, do we? I remembered the other day that when Peyton Manning was bound to leave Indianapolis, we never had one conversation about whether the Bills could acquire him. It was simply too far from reality to think so. Maybe this is too, but I at least want to raise my hand this time.

What's the harm in that?

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