Kovacevic: Smartest trade in franchise history


To continue reading, log into your account:

[theme-my-login show_title=0]
Antonio Brown leaves the Raiders' practice this week in Oakland, Calif. - AP

They could've held onto this guy.

Never forget that.

Mike Tomlin, Kevin Colbert, Art Rooney II and the Steelers as a collective could've just endured a month of employing this feet-freezing, helmet-fussing, GM-threatening, race-baiting, coach-wiretapping, documentary-producing idiot. And if they'd done so, they'd have been as inane, as insane as Antonio Brown himself.

Yeah, the Raiders released him today:

And yeah, of course, since that could never suffice for drama in such a setting, AB sought that release beforehand.

And before that?

Which led to this ...

Then this ...

Then, to the surprise of not a single soul, this:

Are we all caught up now?

Awesome. Because the NFL's 100th season has begun, and the 87th season for the local franchise is about to kick off Sunday, 8:20 p.m., at Gillette Stadium against the Super Bowl champs -- without AB, who isn't eligible to play Sunday -- and the Steelers who'll take the field will do so happier, healthier and better without this clown.

Befitting AB's own scattered brain, I've got several scattershot thoughts on all this, so I'll bring out 25 bullets to tackle them all:

• New England, which signed him to a one-year, $15 million contract with a $9 million signing bonus shortly after he became available to all teams at 4 p.m., will serve as nothing more than the trilogy. He'll flash the smile for a bit, undoubtedly boast about having brought this all about on his own, then badly flame out. I give it a month, max. He is what he is, and it's only worsening.

Bill Belichick evidently thinks he can fix this, because he's occasionally taken on other miscreants and focused them on football, though not nearly as often as the common mythology. Maybe he will. But man, that's gambling not just the remainder of the Patriots' cap space -- they had roughly $11 million -- but also the final year or two of Tom Brady's career. That'd be a hell of a way for their legacy to wind down.

• There will be all kinds of talk about Randy Moss in the coming days. Moss never was AB. Not like this. Not close.

• AB will have one of these for the Patriots before long:

• Something sinister or conspiratorial at play? That can never be ruled out when it comes to known cheaters, but this one would be way over the top, in my view. All those events in Oakland weren't staged. And besides, we can't have it both ways. AB can't be both an idiot and an outrageous genius. He's not the latter, to be kind.

• I'll repeat for emphasis: AB can't play in this game. That's per NFL rules based on the timing of his release. He could've played if the game were Monday, but he couldn't have played anywhere Sunday. Still, one would have to think he'll be standing right there on the opposite sideline. Present as ever in the Steelers' faces. The mind just boggles. What a story this has been.

• Tomlin had been buried in these parts for his handling of AB. This coach got eight seasons of truly elite production out of him. Jon Gruden couldn't get eight practices out of him. Say what one will about the residual impact of bending to star players to the point where the output exceeds the headache, but some coaches can do it, and some can't. Tomlin did it. In isolation, and in the rearview mirror, that was masterful. Let's see how Belichick compares in this regard.

• Colbert was completely buried in these parts for receiving a third-rounder and fifth-rounder from the Raiders, partly because the public badly underestimated how much damage AB had done to his own value, partly because the Bills had just offered a ton more before AB made clear he wouldn't go to Buffalo. All criticisms were proven wrong. Colbert converted those picks into moving up 10 slots and landing Devin Bush, the future -- maybe present -- fixture of his defense. That's some spectacular GM-ing.

• It's the smartest trade in franchise history. It's not the best. That'll always be the one on April 20, 1996, when the Steelers somehow got a babyfaced Jerome Bettis from St. Louis, along with the Rams' third-rounder, in exchange for their second-rounder and fourth-rounder. It's one of the most lopsided trades in the league's history, actually, as the Rams bet heavily on Lawrence Phillips before he bombed within two seasons, and Bettis ... you know.

• But it is the smartest. It's easy for outsiders like us to observe circumstances such as these and implore a team to get rid of someone. It isn't easy for execs, and it's that much harder for coaches. A playbook was written around AB's excellence. A franchise quarterback in his late 30s had just invested 177 targets in one wide receiver the previous season. That wide receiver almost singlehandedly took down the best football team I saw anywhere last season with that 14-catch, 185-yard masterpiece in New Orleans. That's not discarded with the snap of a finger. It takes guts, but it also takes the ability and awareness to engage in serious, honest introspection. And to prioritize properly. They did that. They were smart to do so.

• AB's the best receiver I've ever seen. He'll likely remain the best receiver I ever see. Better than anyone who's ever worn black and gold. If I didn't think so before covering that game inside the Superdome, I sure did afterward.

• He might never be better than that. And unlike the above, I don't mean that in the flattering sense. I mean that he's 31. I mean that he'll never again run a route for Ben Roethlisberger. I mean that ... heck, maybe he doesn't even want to play anymore. It's always dangerous to delve too deeply in any of his absurdity, but anyone who broaches -- or openly threatens -- retirement as often as he has ... that individual's already well into that mindset. And bear in mind, between AB blowing off the Steelers' finale against the Bengals and now removing himself from the Raiders' opener, that's two games in a row he's opted not to play.

• The Steelers dumped Martavis Bryant onto Oakland for a third-rounder. Gruden thought he could fix both. Much of the Nation had long coveted him to come here and replace Tomlin.

• Time will tell which man really took charge with the Raiders, Gruden or Mike Mayock, but I'm guessing the latter. In fact, Mayock's face-to-face confrontation with AB -- that led to AB threatening to punch Mayock in the face, accompanied by a racist remark -- might well have been an act of brilliance, for all we know. AB's contract could have been guaranteed by Monday. Both years. Better to expose him now than later.

• The giddiest people in the NFL right now aren't in the Steelers' front office. They're in the Bills' front office. I've known Tim Graham in Buffalo a long time. Very good reporter. Trust that this is real:

• No, actually, they're in the Falcons' front office, because they just signed Julio Jones to a three-year, $66 million extension without having to worry if he'll go berserk on them. Jones entered the league with Atlanta in 2011, and he's made 698 catches for 10,731 yards. The only player with higher totals in each category in that same span is AB.

• All he had to do was shut up for 48 hours.

• AB's racist remark, if verified, should be handled by the league the same as any other racist remark. Not to get all sociological here, but I'm not a believer in one-way racism. If anyone ever called me a racial slur or a racist, I'd ... well, I'd do what AB threatened to do to Mayock.

• Anyone still taking wagers on whether AB or JuJu Smith-Schuster will have a better season? OK, how about AB vs. James Washington?

• The burden will be on Ben, above all, to make this work. He'll have to trust receivers he might not have trusted in the past. Particularly on third down, where AB was always the first safety valve. Find JuJu. Find Vance McDonald. Better yet, find a way to get Washington, Donte Moncrief, even Diontae Johnson involved. The more options he can put in play, the more dangerous they'll all be.

• Regardless, the Steelers are better off without AB. I've been writing for years that there never was a circus here, just two clowns ... then just one ... and now none. I took a lot of heat for that at the time. Not anymore. I was in the locker room. I was talking to these players daily. I knew who the problems were and who the problems weren't.

• Here's who the Steelers are now, their new face:

• You'll take James Conner over Le'Veon Bell? Yeah, me, too, and I'm just talking as a running back. And I'll take JuJu over AB, just as a receiver at this stage of their respective careers.

• I don't want to hear the CTE excuse. Not without the tiniest shred of evidence. That reeks of enabling boorish behavior. Yeah, I'll admit, I began writing three years ago that something had changed with AB, as longtime subscribers will recall. I took a lot of heat for that at the time, as well. But he went from being humble, personable and perpetually kind to ... that weirdo who interrupted a talk I was having with Vince Williams at his stall to stand nose-to-nose with me in a staredown. Zero idea why. Lasted maybe a handful of seconds before Vinnie gently implored him to knock it off. So sure, something happened. But we aren't neurologists to know what.

• Kick the damned ball already.

To continue reading, log into your account: