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WR Antonio Brown’s baggage gives Raiders some pause

Updated March 6, 2019 - 9:48 pm

ALAMEDA, Calif. — The Raiders and Steelers have danced to this song before, swinging wide receiver Martavis Bryant from Pittsburgh to Oakland last April before dipping wide receiver Ryan Switzer the other direction in August.

These teams know the steps and know the tune. But the latest rendition is not without pause.

Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown is the latest trade topic between the clubs. Although reports late Thursday indicated the Bills were close to a deal with the Steelers to acquire Brown, the Raiders have discussed him at length internally and also are interested.

But the Raiders aren’t sprinting to the dance floor. Like other teams, there is hesitancy within the organization that could lead it to prioritize other avenues when addressing the position.

That includes free agency and the draft. Chargers wide receiver Tyrell Williams is expected to draw serious interest among free agents.

In some sense, Brown and the Raiders align perfectly.

The team enters the Wednesday start of the 2019 league year prepared to make substantial investments at wide receiver. It is without a No. 1-caliber threat and aspires to upgrade in the slot, too. Acquiring someone of Brown’s resume — he has six straight seasons of at least 100 receptions; Tim Brown with 104 in 1997 is responsible for the only such feat in the Raiders’ 59-year history — would check the first box.

Coach Jon Gruden holds Antonio Brown in high regard. His opinion is on the record, conveyed before a matchup between the teams last season.

“He can run every route you dream up,” Gruden said Dec. 5. “I say that about other receivers, but he can run double move. He can run by you. He can run crossing routes. He’s very good after the catch. What’s the greatest thing about this man, I’ve told all of our receivers, if you get a chance to watch him practice, you’ll see what unlocks the greatness in him.

“He’s the hardest-working man, I think, in football. Hardest-working player I’ve ever seen practice. I’ve seen Jerry Rice. I’ve seen a lot of good ones. But I put Antonio Brown at the top. If there are any young wideouts out there, I’d go watch him practice. You figure out yourself why he’s such a good player.”

It, however, is not so simple.

Brown has kept it from being so.

In a simple world, Brown would not expect a new contract from whichever team acquires him. By several accounts, he does.

Brown has not exactly concealed a new deal is on his mind, suggesting as much in a recent ESPN video profile. “I’m going to go to a new team probably in March, probably get a new contract somewhere,” he said.

Uncertainty here has unsettled the Raiders.

They would lose a premium draft pick and inherit a potential contract dispute if trading for Brown. In October, they traded wide receiver Amari Cooper to the Dallas Cowboys to collect a premium draft pick and avoid a potential contract dispute. They adopted one Steelers headache last April when trading for Bryant despite his history with the league’s substance-abuse program. Brown, who turns 31 in July, could be another.

Brown turns 31 in July. After he caught 71.3 percent of targets in 2014, his efficiency rating dipped from 70.5 to 68.8, 62.0 and 61.9 percent the next four years. A squabble between him and the Steelers coaching staff prompted Brown to skip practices before missing the final game last year.

The Raiders own 10 drafts picks between April 25 and 27, including three in the first round and four in the top 35.

With them, they’ve set out for players who fit a certain profile. Last week, general manager Mike Mayock characterized prototypical Raiders players as being “big, fast guys that can run and love the fricking game of football. They love it. They’re professional. They show up every day and give you a full day of work, and they can’t wait to play and compete on Sunday. That oversimplifies it, but that’s what for us a Raider star is.”

As Brown pushes his way out of Pittsburgh, maybe the receiver’s comments shouldn’t be taken at face value.

That said, he has not broadcast himself a fit.

“I don’t even have to play football if I don’t want,” Brown said in the same ESPN profile. “I don’t even need the game. You know what I’m saying? I don’t need to prove nothing to anyone. … Obviously, I want the game, but I don’t need the game. It’s a difference. I don’t need to play for no one. I’m happy. You see this (mansion)? This is paid off, cash. I owe no one. I’m a millionaire. I’m an entrepreneur.”

A number of NFL teams have bowed out of Brown’s pursuit in the trade market.

Maybe the Raiders still talk their way onto the dance floor with the Steelers. But if they do, it will be despite trepidation and consideration to sit out this track instead.

Contact reporter Michael Gehlken at mgehlken@reviewjournal.com. Follow @GehlkenNFL on Twitter.

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