Antonio Brown getting traded to the Panthers seems like one of those uninspired, over-speculative ideas you hear from bored fans in the middle of a long offseason. Upon closer examination, pairing the elite Steelers receiver with Cam Newton in Carolina actually makes a lot of sense on many levels.
Any deal for Brown is going to come at a high price. However, Pittsburgh and the Panthers could craft a trade that is mutually beneficial for both sides. Here’s an in depth break-down of why it makes sense and what a potential blockbuster deal sending No. 84 to Charlotte might look like.
A match made in heaven
The beginning of the end for the Panthers in 2018 came in Week 10, when they got destroyed by the Steelers in Pittsburgh, 52-21. More than just a catastrophic blow to Carolina’s self-esteem, the loss served as a microcosm of how Cam Newton’s NFL career has gone to this point.
Thanks to repeated breakdowns in pass protection, Newton got beaten up all night. The Steelers sacked him five times and hit him seven times en route to their easy victory, which began a seven-game losing streak for Carolina and shoulder troubles for their QB1 that eventually ended his season early. It was hardly the first time Newton has been pummeled by a good pass rush and it definitely won’t be the last.
In the middle of all those bumps and bruises for Newton, Antonio Brown was roasting Carolina’s cornerbacks for deep gains repeatedly. He caught all six of his targets for 96 yards and a touchdown.
All together, the performance painfully put Newton’s problems over the years into perspective.
It’s time to give Cam the proper supporting cast that he has never really had up to this point. Adding Brown to the mix with DJ Moore and Curtis Samuel could well give him the best wide receiver corps he’s ever had.
Brown’s sensational route-running and ball skills alone would make him a terrific fit for Carolina’s offense. For what it’s worth, Brown also seems like an ideal teammate for Newton.
What Norv Turner’s offense was missing most in 2018 was the deep ball. Part of that was due to Newton’s shoulder but even when he was healthy early in the year those long passes were not connecting at all. Brown is a tantalizing athlete in many ways, but his home run ability sets him apart from any receiver in Panthers history – even Steve Smith.
The two have taken to hanging out and training off the field, perhaps telegraphing their hopes of playing together in the future.
Making a bold move for Brown would represent a dramatic departure from the way the Panthers have done business in the past. It’s also exactly the kind of dynamic they need to make to capitalize on Newton’s abilities as he approaches the peak of his NFL career.
It’s time for Brown to move on
Critics of this trade scenario will no doubt point to Brown’s behavior as being a major negative. While it’s difficult to deny that Brown has been acting problematic to say the least, it’s also worth looking at the context of the events in Pittsburgh.
The exact details are only known to Brown, his teammates and coach Mike Tomlin, but it’s clear he has fallen out with Ben Roethlisberger. The beef between the two has been well-documented for nearly a year and a half now. As he has been known to do with other teammates, Roethlisberger was critical of Brown in a radio interview in early October 2017, which may have been the first true crack between them.
Big Ben’s comments can’t entirely excuse everything that Brown has said and done over the last few months to force his way out of Pittsburgh. That being said, it’s difficult to blame Brown for wanting to play with another quarterback. A change of scenery could be exactly what Brown needs, especially considering his obvious chemistry with Newton.
What the Steelers might get
As always, the devil resides in the details. The only way that the Panthers can sell the Steelers on dealing Brown is if they’re willing to part with a significant amount of draft capital in return.
One of the reasons that Pittsburgh has been able to stay competitive for so long – they haven’t had a losing season since 2003 – is their ability to build through the draft. Some teams (one of them plays in Denver) rely on signing big name free agents to stay afloat, but history says that’s an unsustainable strategy. Pittsburgh can and will insist on a first-rounder as well as getting multiple picks in any potential trade for No. 84.
Here’s how they might make out in this deal:
Panthers 2019 first-round pick: No. 16 overall Panthers 2019 third-round pick: No. 100 overall Panthers 2020 third-round pick: TBD
Surrendering the first-round pick will hurt Carolina’s chances of landing a game-changing left tackle or an edge-rushing menace, but it won’t make it impossible. For their part, the Steelers should be happy to load up on more top 100 picks for 2020.
What the Panthers might get
Obviously, the heart of the deal is getting a play-maker at wide receiver who makes reaching 1,500 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns a year look routine. Meanwhile, Carolina has gotten production like that at wide receiver literally just once since the start of the new century, when Steve Smith posted 1,563 yards and 12 touchdowns in the 2005 season.
The Panthers roster is going through a broader youth movement though, and the trade would have to include getting a couple picks back.
Here’s how Carolina might make out in this deal:
Steelers WR Antonio Brown Steelers 2019 third-round pick: No. 83 overall Steelers 2020 seventh-round pick: TBD
In this scenario, general manager Marty Hurney finally secures a true No. 1 wideout and makes Cam Newton a very happy camper in the process.
The David Tepper factor
Realistically, it would be difficult for Carolina to pull off this trade. There are a host of other NFL teams who have better assets to offer Pittsburgh and also more cap room to accommodate Brown’s hefty contract. One key factor they have working in their favor is owner David Tepper, who has connections to the Steelers from when he was a minority owner there.
While being on speaking terms with the Pittsburgh front office is hardly a unique quality for a NFL owner, Tepper’s history with the organization might give him a leg up over other potential competitors who will be inquiring about Brown’s services.
More importantly, Tepper’s presence represents a shift in the Panthers’ philosophy. It’s hard to imagine a team led by Jerry Richardson taking a risk on an Antonio Brown trade, just as it was impossible to see him signing a player like Eric Reid. Now that Richardson is in the rear-view mirror, it’s possible we’re entering a more aggressive era of stewardship for the franchise.
Tepper has made it clear he’s not shy about making changes. Adding a bubble over the practice field will only get Carolina caught up to the 21st century, though. If he gambles on a major acquisition like Antonio Brown and it pays off, he could practically ensure a competitive Panthers offense for the rest of Newton’s career. That’s a risk worth taking.