Jerry Rice’s claim that Antonio Brown wants to play in San Francisco doesn’t matter. All the tweetsand Instagram posts don’t matter. Where Antonio Brown wants to play matters the least in the ongoing saga of which team he’ll suit up for next season.
It’s vital to note that Brown is under contract with the Steelers through the 2021 season. He is not a free agent this offseason, or the next one, or the next one, and Steelers president Art Rooney II has already ruled out releasing the 30-year-old. That means Brown, barring some kind of unknown no-trade clause in his contract, has no agency in this scenario. He’ll play either for the Steelers or wherever the Steelers trade him.
The 49ers could certainly use the four-time All-Pro. He had a league-high 15 touchdowns last season. San Francisco’s entire receiving corps had 16 combined.
Brown would presumably be a perfect fit in Kyle Shanahan’s offense, and that would undoubtedly play a factor in the receiver’s interest in joining the 49ers – a team on the rise with an offense that caters to his skill set and no other playmakers of his caliber. He’d be their biggest star despite turning 31 before the season.
The Steelers won’t be eager to do Brown any favors though. This isn’t a scenario where Pittsburgh will work to iron out a deal with a team Brown prefers to join. They’re shipping him to the highest bidder.
This isn’t in Brown’s hands. It isn’t even necessarily in the 49ers’ hands. If general manager John Lynch takes a massive, unforeseen swing and offers the No. 2 overall pick, but the Cardinals offer the No. 1 overall pick – Brown is going to play for Arizona.
All of the tweets from 49ers players and Brown’s favorable responses aren’t even on the Steelers’ radar. They’re paying Rice’s interview on 95.7 The Game in San Francisco no mind.
A solution in which Brown stays in the Steel City isn’t entirely out of the question either. While Rooney told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he didn’t foresee Brown returning, he refused to rule anything out.
“Whether the situation can be reconciled and have him back on the team next year, we’re a long way away from thinking that can happen,” he said. “We’re not closing the door on anything at this point.”
It would make sense that Pittsburgh’s first step would be trying to make amends with the nine-year veteran. Even at 30 he had a very productive year with 104 catches, 1,297 yards and 15 touchdowns in 15 games. A situation where he harmoniously suits up in their uniform next year would be ideal for them.
His outstanding 2018 campaign also ensures there will be a competitive trade market for the seven-time Pro Bowler. Any team with some semblance of draft capital in the next couple years, and even a modicum of cap flexibility will be in the running for Brown. San Francisco won’t be alone in their pursuit.
For the 49ers, a union between them and Brown is a long ways off. An increase in his public desire to join the organization doesn’t change that. If he does eventually suit up in red and gold, it will be because the 49ers worked out what the Steelers felt was the best deal, not because Brown wanted to be there.