The Pittsburgh Steelers didn’t get what many expected for Antonio Brown, but the trade may actually work in their favor.
While the saga of the Antonio Brown trade has finally and mercifully come to end, the debate as to whether or not the compensation the Steelers (we) received in said trade was “fair” will, perhaps, linger on in perpetuity. Once Antonio announced his desire to continue his career with a team other than the team that drafted him, paid him handsomely and tolerated his seemingly “me” first attitude, the debate instantaneously commenced as to what type of compensation would be “fair” for arguably the best receiver currently employed in the NFL.
For example, my soon-to-be 21-year-old son and proud Steelers fan, like his father, stated, in no uncertain terms, that to receive anything less than a first-round pick for Antonio Brown would be tantamount to corporate malfeasance. Admittedly, I was of the same mindset; however, I was skeptical given some of the players whom we drafted in the first round, but, we’ll get to that in a minute.
As of March 13th, 2019, at 4 pm New York time, none of those debates mattered as the deal is done, so to speak; the trade has been consummated and the compensation received is a third-round pick and a fifth. According to my son, corporate malfeasance exists. While I am not completely enthralled with the haul-or lack thereof-the trade produced, in reality, it may ultimately prove to be a boon. In other words, the Raiders may have done the organization a favor by not giving us a first-round pick. Allow me to elaborate.
In the 1989 NFL draft, the Steelers owned two first-round picks; one of which came courtesy of the Minnesota Vikings, who traded their first-round pick for Mike Merriweather, who had held out in 1998, dissatisfied with his contract; Merriweather demanded a trade and the Vikings accommodated, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette dated April 24, 1989.
Armed with two first-round picks, we couldn’t have been in a better position, right? Not quite. With the aforementioned two first-round picks, we drafted two players who would play a combined six and half seasons in the Black and Gold. Needless to say, those picks (Tim Worley and Tom Ricketts) were less than spectacular for the organization; however, those picks were not the only first-round picks that could be categorized as “less than spectacular”.
Who could we have drafted instead? Well, instead of Ricketts, we could have drafted a guard from Penn State named Steve Wisniewski, who only made 8 trips to the Pro Bowl and was named All-Pro twice. Oh, and he was drafted in the second-round.
I have a theory, by the way, about which conferences to muse when scouting offensive line talent, but that topic will just have to wait for another time. Conversely, who would have argued with us packing those two first-round picks to move up to draft none other than Barry Sanders! Man, that one hurts.
Let’s explore this theory by attempting to assign some empirical, albeit subjective and simplistic, data to our discussion. All reference material is furnished via Pro Football Reference. Since Coach Tomlin has only twelve drafts under his belt, we will examine the initial 10 years of first-round draft picks for Coaches Noll, Cowher and Tomlin. Why chose 10 years? I can easily divide by 10; 12 is more challenging. The scoring legend we will apply is as follows: Grade A=100, B=80-, C=70, D=60 and F=0.
Ready, set, go:
Under Coach Noll’s watch, from 1969 to 1978, we drafted the following players in the first round:
Mean Joe: (A)
Frank Lewis: (B) – three Hall of Fame players were drafted shortly after Lewis; one being Jack Ham.
J.T. Thomas: (B)
Dave Brown: (F) – played only one season for us, but he did enjoy a pretty good career with both Seattle and Green Bay.
Bennie Cunningham: (B)
Robin Cole: (B)
Ron Johnson: (C) – Ozzie Newsome was drafted with the pick after Johnson.
The tally for Coach Noll is a 79 average or another way of looking at it is this: Under Coach Noll, we “hit” on 79% of the first rounders.
Under Coach Cowher’s watch, from 1992-2001, we drafted the following players in the first round:
Leon Searcy: (B)
Deon Figures: (D) – for a first round pick, he just didn’t live up to the expectations of a first rounder corner.
Charles Johnson: (D) – Issac Bruce was drafted in the second round by the Rams
Mark Bruener: (B) – Derrick Brooks was drafted with the pick after him, but Bruener was solid and Brooks was more of a 4-3 linebacker than he was a 3-4 linebacker;
Jamain Stephens: (F) – played only two seasons for us and five total seasons.
Chad Scott: (D) – same assessment applies to Scott as applied to Figures.
Alan Faneca: (A)
Troy Edwards: (D) – played only three seasons for us.
Plaxico Burress: (C) – Brian Urlacher was drafted immediately after Plaxico.
Casey Hampton: (A)
The tally for Coach Cowher is a 67 average or a 67% “hit” on first rounders.
Under Coach Tomlin’s watch, from 2007-2016, we drafted the following players in the first round:
Lawrence Timmons: (A)
Rashard Mendenhall: (C) – Chirs Johnson was drafted with the next pick
“Ziggy” Hood: (D)
Maurkice Pouncey: (A)
Cam Heyward: (A)
David DeCastro: (A)
Jarvis Jones: (F)
Ryan Shazier: (A)
Bud Dupree: (C) – just has not lived up to the first round billing;
Artie Burns: (D) – the jury is still out on him. Hopefully, he will regain his confidence and will be able to replicate his rookie campaign.
The tally for Coach Tomlin is a 66 average or a 66% “hit” on our first-round picks from the aforementioned time frame.
So, what does the exercise we just performed illuminate? Honestly, not a whole lot given the subjectivity of the analysis; however, since the premise of our discussion is that the Raiders may have done us a favor by NOT giving us a first-round pick as part of the package for Antonio Brown, let’s now examine the picks from rounds three to five from the time frame we originally established (the first ten drafts of Coaches Noll, Cowher and Tomlin) to see how we have fared in those rounds.
Under Coach Noll, from 1969 to 1978, we drafted these notable players in rounds three, four and five:
Jon Kolb, Mel Blount, Gerry Mullins, Dwight White, Larry Brown-played both Tight End and Offensive Tackle-Steve Furness, John Stallworth, Mike Webster, Steve Courson, Jim Smith and Craig Colquitt.
I would certainly argue that drafting three Hall of Famers in rounds three to five in a 10-year span is downright superb.
Let’s move on to Coach Cowher. From 1992-2001, we drafted the following notable players in rounds three, four and five:
Joel Steed, Chad Brown, Jason Gildon, Earl Holmes, Mike Vrabel, Hines Ward, Joey Porter and Aaron Smith.
Some of you may be wondering why I marked Earl Holmes as “notable”; he was a tackling machine. In reality, the only player on the above list that has a shot at donning a gold jacket is Hines; however, these players were more than solid contributors to our cause during the Coach Cowher years.
Lastly, here are the notable players drafted under Coach Tomlin from 2007-2016 in rounds three, four and five:
William Gay, Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders, Martavis Bryant and Javon Hargrave.
Honestly, not a whole lot to be excited about in the later rounds under Coach Tomlin, but, as we know (or may not know), Antonio was a sixth-round pick in 2010; we were analyzing picks only in rounds three, four and five.
Now, let’s pose the question that spawned our discussion: Did the Raiders do us a favor by NOT giving us a first-round pick for Antonio Brown? In my opinion, they did, based on the players referenced earlier in our discussion who were drafted in the later rounds (three, four and five). Another way of looking at this is that we, arguably, have drafted better in the later rounds than we have in the first round.
The reality is we won’t be able to explore that aspect of the trade until at least two seasons (just throwing out an arbitrary number) after the 2019 draft. Are we going to draft the next Mel Blount or John Stallworth or Mike Webster in the later rounds? I sure hope so.
While the discussion has existentially argued that we would stand pat to utilize the third and fifth round picks essentially as “bonus” picks, the argument, therefore, precludes a trade up in the first round utilizing either the third-round, the fifth-round or both picks we received in the trade. What if the Raiders had given us a first-round pick? What then? Well, the “what” would create a scenario to mirror that of 1989.
Let’s make this even more intriguing and assume the Raiders had given us the number four pick. Now we’re talking. We would have had picks number four and number twenty; armed with two first round picks, we wouldn’t have been in a better position, right? Would we have repeated the folly of the 1989 draft or would we have righted the wrong that we inflicted upon ourselves thirty years ago?
Sadly or thankfully, we will never know what could have been. In other words, the Raiders may have just saved us from ourselves this time around.