The Browns, Jets and Packers are all in similar positions right now as all three franchises are without a coach but have strong playoff aspirations for the next few seasons. All three franchises will also have a hefty amount of cash to throw at top players in free agency and on the trade market this spring. It’s why these teams will be at the top of the list in a few weeks when LeVeon Bell becomes a free agent and when the Steelers will likely explore an Antonio Brown trade.
The Jets are projected to have more than $100 million in cap space while the Packers will have around $40 million. The Browns will have around $85 million.
Despite a whopping $21 million cap hit if they were to trade Brown, the Steelers currently seem likely to make the move.
“I call it a high probability, and we have until the March 13 new league year to see this come to fruition. He’s due a $2.5 million roster bonus five days after that date,” ESPN’s Chris Mortensen said. “The Steelers, certainly because of what happened this week but what’s been festering behind the scenes even a couple years beyond that, they will move him in a trade.”
It’s entirely possible that the Browns, Jets and Packers could all target both Brown and Bell though it is unclear as to how close Brown and Bell are with one another given all the tumult in Pittsburgh these past few years. Brown publicly offered his support for Bell in September but when Bell ultimately did not sign his tender to rejoin the Steelers Brown unfollowed the running back on Instagram. Given that a lot of the Steelers drama has played out on social media over the past 24 months or so, a simple “unfollow” should not be taken lightly.
The Ringer’s Bill Simmons and NFL writer Kevin Clark recently discussed the Steelers situation with Bell and Brown, as well as how the Browns actually have the most desirable situation in the league right now.
Clark: If you are the Steelers right now and you’re looking at your salary cap, Antonio Brown goes from $8 million to $22 million just next year. If you trade him it goes down to eight and the new team picks up $15 million. I just think you have to think long and hard about committing to Ben Roethlisberger for more than a year.
Simmons: That’s my question. Everyone’s saying they have to get rid of Antonio Brown. Are we sure the move isn’t actually trading Roethlisberger to a contender? It’s the same cap hit either way.
Clark: I would ignore it and go all in on another year with Brown and Roethlisberger. I think it’s premature to tear it all down. You’re not going to get fair value for Brown.
Simmons: What do you think the best available job is right now? I would say the Browns.
Simmons: I think the Browns are legit good. You give them a real coach next year and that team could win 12 games.
Clark: And they have a lot of cap space. They have a lot of talent. I think John Dorsey’s a really, really good GM.
Simmons: Yup and most of their top players are on rookie contracts. The Browns are the best job in football. They could win the Super Bowl next year.
Clark: They have next three years where they could really kill it.