Unlike the Brown to Buffalo rumors that had Twitter aflutter this week, this time it appears to be a done deal. The Antonio Brown saga has concluded. It’s been reported that the Steelers have agreed to terms with the Oakland Raiders to send Antonio Brown (WR) west for a 3rd and a 5th round pick. Per Adam Schefter, they will also be increasing his contract to 3 years, $50.125MM.
Raiders are adding money to Antonio Brown’s deal: He now will have three years worth $50.125 million – with incentives to go to $54.125 million, per source.
Where there was no guaranteed money there’s now $30.125 million guaranteed, per source.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 10, 2019
Unlike the Brown to Buffalo rumors that had Twitter aflutter this week, this time it’s a done deal. Brown’s Tweeted the news out Saturday night/Sunday morning.
— Antonio Brown (@AB84) March 10, 2019
It’s long been known that Brown would be departing from the team where he was drafted and reached superstardom. There has been wild speculation as to where he would end up with no shortage of antics from the receiver himself on his desire for new scenery. Now that we have some clarity, we can begin to examine the fantasy fallout and implications of this move.
The Steelers hoped for high-end compensation but will settle for a 3rd and 5th round pick from the Raiders. It is hard to view this saga as anything other than a loss for both the front office and the team. They have lost a Hall of Fame worthy receiver with three years remaining on his contract. They will still have around a $21MM dead cap hit for 2018, limiting their ability to sign free agents and replace the talent that departs with Brown.
Brown had 104 receptions for 1,297 yards and 15 yards on 168 targets this past season. He has not had fewer than 101 receptions and 1,284 yards in a single season since 2012. A massive void will be left in the Steelers offense with question marks about whether JuJu Smith-Schuster can step into the primary receiver role. Even if Juju excels, he was 7th in the league with 166 targets this past season, only seven behind the league targets leader (Deandre Hopkins, HOU). There just isn’t much room for his role to increase. Expect him to see a similar target share as last season going forward.
No other wide receiver on the team commanded more than 44 targets. James Washington has shown promise and will have his stock skyrocket with Brown leaving. He will be difficult to acquire for a reasonable price in dynasty leagues and still carries considerable risk as an unproven commodity.
Steelers 2018 Wide Receiver Targets
With Brown leaving, it can be expected that Juju will have fewer snaps in the slot (56.6% in 2018) and play more on the outside. The Steelers have been among league leaders in using three wide receiver sets the past two years (74% and 69%). If this trend continues, this will open up an opportunity for the slot receiver to gain additional snaps and may be a worthwhile target for dynasty owners. This is currently slated to be Ryan Switzer, but a deep crop of free agent slot players and a WR heavy draft class could shift this in short order. A receiver drafted by the Steelers in the 2019 draft — which should be anticipated given their lack of depth — will be worth serious consideration for an early to mid 1st round rookie selection.
The Raiders are only giving up a 3rd and 5th and increasing Brown’s contract. This is undoubtedly a win for them. They lack talent at just about every offensive position group and are in dire need of an infusion to support Derek Carr. The Raiders moved on from Amari Cooper (WR, DAL) midseason and have been expected to make multiple additions this offseason via free agency and the draft. Adding someone of Brown’s ilk would be a benefit to any team in the league and can provide immediate improvement to a passing attack in desperate need.
A major concern will be personalities and leadership in the locker room. Brown has not been shy to vocalize his need for targets and desire to win. As described in more detail below, Carr has significant limitations, and the Raiders do not appear ready to compete. How will Brown connect with his new QB and handle being on a team that may be several years away from contention for a Super Bowl?
The Raiders destination is a legitimate downgrade from the Steelers but is a far cry from the worst landing spot (think back to the Bills false report). Brown is leaving the 6th ranked offensive DVOA team and joining the 25th ranked. Per Football Outsiders, the Steelers’ offensive line was 4th in the league in 2018 for pass protection, while the Raiders were 25th. Oakland had considerably fewer passing yards this past season compared with Pittsburgh (5,008 vs. 3,751).
The Raiders still ranked in the middle of the pack for passing yards and have a poor defense (30th DVOA) requiring them to pass in 2nd halves to stay in games. Assuming Derek Carr remains as the starting QB, he ranked 22nd in adjusted yards per attempt, 3rd in true completion percentage (accounts for unpressured throwaways and drops), and 4th in deep ball percentage in 2018. He is by no means an elite passer but has proven capable of supporting receivers as fantasy options in the past.
One notable concern is the splits between Roethlisberger throwing passes to Brown versus others (courtesy of RotoViz Game Splits App). While the sample is small, it is glaring:
This may be misleading given that the replacement QBs were backups and stepped in without an offseason to prepare. But it is noteworthy that we have not seen Brown succeed with a QB other than Roethlisberger. The counter-argument is that Brown is an otherworldly receiver that does not have deficiencies in his game. He can run a full route tree and has shown he can consistently beat coverage and excel after the catch (7th in yards after the catch in 2018). He will certainly match his 2018 total of 169 targets with the Raiders given their lack of other receiving options. This amount of volume leads to top end fantasy production, but the downgrade of offense lowers his ceiling and particularly his TD opportunities.
It is worth considering if Brown will prove beneficial for other receiving options on the team. Jared Cook led the team in targets (101) and is departing as a free agent. Jordy Nelson was 2nd with 88. Nelson may be cut this offseason, but will otherwise remain as the WR2 in the offense. I am skeptical he will contribute for fantasy given his steady decline the past couple seasons. Marcell Ateman may be worth a speculative add given his low cost and opportunity to play more opposite Brown on the outside if Nelson increases snaps from the slot (26% in 2018) or is cut. But overall I have little interest investing in receiving options on this offense. I have minimal faith that the coaching staff will coax enough consistency and production from this team to create reliable fantasy production.
Appreciate you reading. You can find additional content in my DFF archive, and I can be found on Twitter @DFF_Tom. Happy to discuss all things fantasy, dynasty, and football.Shoutout to @Capology101 and @DFFjwaltner for consultation on contract and salary implications