ALAMEDA, Calif. — Raiders owner Mark Davis invited coach Jon Gruden, general manager Mike Mayock and both their wives to a Las Vegas function last weekend. So there they were, in the franchise’s future home, when a critical decision presented itself.
Antonio Brown could be had.
The team knew the Pittsburgh Steelers sought to trade the four-time All-Pro wide receiver. Not until a reported deal with the Buffalo Bills on Thursday evening collapsed did the Raiders consider themselves a plausible trade partner; they preferred to retain all three of their first-round picks, and now, the Steelers’ asking price lowered.
“Instead of having a nice double date,” Gruden said, “we dated (agent Drew) Rosenhaus and Antonio Brown. Never saw our wives. But it’s as happy as (my wife) Cindy and (Mayock’s wife) Mandy have been since we’ve known them, when Antonio agreed. Thank you, brother.”
On Saturday, Brown agreed to a three-year, $50.125 million contract. On Wednesday afternoon, he signed it on the second story of the Raiders’ facility, walked downstairs and spoke in a news conference before holding a black No. 84 team jersey. Gruden sat to his right. Mayock was to his left.
What happens in Vegas.
“I bring accountability,” Brown said. “I bring actions, not what I say but what I do, how I approach things, holding guys accountable in the receiver room. … I’m here to help the program in all regards. I’m here to make guys better around me. I’m here to elevate everything around me. I’m here to be a source of energy and positivity and being a good teammate.”
Around the same time as the news conference, the Raiders agreed to a four-year, $44 million contract with former Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Tyrell Williams. The two together make for a significant upgrade — and investment — at the position. Entering Gruden’s second season, the receiver group is growing more in line with his vision.
“We don’t want to have a good receiver corps,” Gruden said. “I want to have the best receiver corps in football, and I think to have the best, you’ve got to have the best. In my opinion, we acquired the best wide receiver in football.”
Brown has a resume befitting a future Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee.
How he achieves it, Mayock and Gruden said, is arguably more impressive.
They both traveled around the league for years as broadcasters, Gruden for ESPN and Mayock for NFL Network. When visiting UPMC Rooney Sports Complex in Pittsburgh, Brown’s work ethic on the practice field jumped out. Such habits can be an example for Raiders teammates, they believe.
Such work fueled Brown to become the first player in NFL history to post at least 100 receptions in six consecutive seasons, a streak he’ll carry into 2019 when switching from Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to Raiders quarterback Derek Carr. Brown already has visited Carr at his home and caught passes from him in a park.
“I get excited because of where this man comes from,” Gruden said of Brown. “The sixth round. Wasn’t a Division I (athlete). He did it the hard way. He’s done everything in his power to be the best he possibly can be, on and off the field. His body of work is not only impressive. It’s fun to watch. He’s electrifying after the catch. He’s a great competitor. He wins the 50-50 balls. He’s outstanding in short areas.
“You have a great imagination as a football coach when you coach a man like this. He can play split end. He can play flanker. He can play in the slot. He can return punts and sell popcorn at halftime. We’re excited about this guy. We’re going to put him to good work. …When we signed Antonio Brown, you’d be shocked at how many other players have wanted to come with him. It’s really been a great experience.”
Mayock detailed how the Raiders acquired Brown.
On Friday evening, the Raiders and Steelers agreed on trade compensation — they sent a 2019 third- and fifth-round pick to Pittsburgh. On Saturday, the team discussed reworking Brown’s contract with Rosenhaus.
“We weren’t even in on the process until Friday,” Mayock said. “I’m not going to get into specifics, but the bottom line is I think Pittsburgh wanted a certain pick. We weren’t going to be able to get there. When that deal fell through with Buffalo, we got involved. I’ll tell you a couple things. I think (general manager) Kevin Colbert from Pittsburgh did a great job of getting this thing closed. I think Drew Rosenhaus was amazing because there were some times where I wasn’t sure if we were going to get there or not.
“Any time you’ve got a high-profile negotiation like this, there are points to be made by both sides. You’ve got to get through some things. Drew did a great job of keeping this thing alive.”
An early reward came Wednesday.
The trade could not be processed until after the 2019 league year began at 1 p.m. Regardless, in the morning, Mayock arrived at the office and noticed Brown in Gruden’s office. The two were reviewing and discussing plays from Brown’s career that Gruden compiled.
“The two of them were sitting in there like little kids, watching 400 cut-ups of Antonio,” Mayock said. “Everything he did. Everything. They were liked little kids in a laboratory. And that’s why we’re so excited.”