The best and most productive receiver in the NFL over the last six seasons could soon be on the market, and the Jets have cap room to spend and a desperate need for a star like that to help their rising young quarterback. On the surface, it appears like a match made in heaven.
But they're better off resisting temptation and steering clear of a possible hell.
It sure sounds like a good idea for the Jets to try to get Antonio Brown, a seven-time Pro Bowler who has topped 100 catches and 1,200 yards in each of the last six seasons, and who has reportedly asked the Pittsburgh Steelers to trade him. But even if the Steelers would or could trade the 30-year-old diva, there are red flags everywhere screaming "Buyer Beware".
Start with what reportedly happened last week that led to Brown getting benched for the Steelers' critical season finale. He reportedly got into an argument at the team's walkthrough on Wednesday that led to him throwing a ball at quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, then storming out of practice and not returning at all the rest of the week. When he showed up Sunday expecting to play in a game the Steelers needed to win and then learned that he wouldn't, he didn't take the field and even left the stadium at halftime.
Sure, on a Jets team devoid of big-time weapons, Brown could instantly transform the offense and turn quarterback Sam Darnold into a star. But does that behavior make Brown sound like the kind of guy the Jets want around Darnold? As the Jets try to build a program and Darnold grows into a leader, is that the kind of disruptive influence they want on their team?
Absolutely not. And hopefully they learned their lesson from their disruptive days with Brandon Marshall and Sheldon Richardson feuding, and Mo Wilkerson doing whatever he wanted to do no matter how many times he was benched or fined. Or maybe they learned it last week when Trumaine Johnson, their $72.5 million cornerback, decided he had no interest in playing by team rules.
And if that didn't do it, then the Jets should listen to Ryan Clark, the former Steeler and former teammate of Brown, who made it clear in an interview on ESPN that the Steelers need to sweep this bad influence right out of their locker room - and soon.
"When it comes to just being a good teammate, when it comes to just being supportive, understanding that you're trying to achieve one goal, that doesn't matter to him," Clark said, via ProFootballTalk. "What matters to him is 19 attempts, 14 catches, 185 yards, two touchdowns against the Saints. That's what's important to Antonio Brown.
"This is about the fabric of the team. This is about the guy that goes Facebook Live as your coach is talking and leaks information out of the locker room that never should be there. This is about the guy that publicly talks about not getting the ball or issues with the offensive coordinator, knocks over garbage cans or knocks over Gatorade bottles and cans because he doesn't get the rock. At some point, when you're an organization that's built on team, organization that's built on integrity, you have to show the rest of the locker room that."
That's harsh stuff, and something Clark has said before. A year earlier, on ESPN Radio, Clark said "Antonio has done an extremely good job of tricking people … of having us think that he's just a hard worker who's here to win football games. No, Antonio Brown loves Antonio Brown."
Of course, in the NFL, it's winning and production that matters most and there's no doubt that Brown could help the Jets do that. Imagine if they could get him and still sign free agent running back Le'Veon Bell. They might instantly be one of the favorites in the AFC.
But the problem is the cost of the production. Not the financial cost. The Jets, with an expected $100 million in cap space, have the room to absorb the final three years of his four-year, $68 million contract (the bigger question is whether the Steelers could afford the $21 million in dead money on their cap if they traded him).
It's more the personal cost, the cost to the team chemistry, and what it could do to the development of Darnold. For a local parallel, think back to the early days of the Eli Manning era with the Giants, when the quarterback had to deal with a sometimes unhinged Jeremy Shockey, who had a habit of ranting and raving on the sidelines whenever he didn't get the ball.
When Shockey broke his leg late in the 2007 season, that's when Manning began to finally thrive - even leading the Giants to a Super Bowl that season. A former teammate noted that the sidelines were "quieter" with Shockey gone, allowing Manning to concentrate on his job, not on making Shockey happy.
Added then-offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride: "Some of the volatility was gone so it made it a little easier."
So that's the trade-off. Brown is a star. He can do great things. But he brings a heightened level of "volatility" that won't be good for a quarterback about to turn 22. Maybe a veteran team with a veteran quarterback and a history of winning could figure out how to handle him. Then again, that's an apt description of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and they don't seem to have much of a handle on Brown at all.
So the Jets should pass on Brown's checkered past and his diva antics, if the Steelers even do make him available. On talent alone he'd make a fine addition to the Jets' rebuilding program, but he'd be a subtraction by addition in every other way. The Jets may not find a weapon like him, or even close, in a weak market for receivers in both free agency and the draft.
But they will find much better fits at that position for their young, growing team.