The Pittsburgh Steelers were given a tough assignment by wide receiver Antonio Brown: find a trading partner who is willing to give me a pay raise and a bunch of guaranteed money with three years left on my contract. The trick is that Pittsburgh also had to get reasonable compensation for him in that process, and at the same time, Brown was actively sabotaging his trade value in order to ensure that the team would have to trade him by behaving erratically and badmouthing the organization.
That’s why they ultimately only got third- and fifth-round picks back from the Oakland Raiders in exchange for the services of one of the top football players in all of the NFL. Those were high picks in those rounds, admittedly, bit had they been able to trade him under normal circumstances, it’s easy to envision them getting something similar to what the New York Giants got back for Odell Beckham, Jr.
The Steelers just wrapped up their selections through the fifth round of the 2019 NFL Draft, however, using both of the picks that they got from the Raiders, so we already know what the final tally of the Brown trade will be. In the end, they got back Toledo wide receiver Diontae Johnson in the third round and Michigan tight end Zach Gentry in the fifth, addressing two of the holes that they had remaining on the offensive side of the ball.
Johnson bears some striking similarities to Brown when he came out of Central Michigan as an underclassman in 2010. They posted similar measurables from a MAC school, though Brown had more consistent statistical output through his three seasons. Johnson had strong numbers in his sophomore year, but a change at quarterback hurt his stats in 2018.
As for Gentry, he continues a streak of now 12 years with the Steelers avoiding the tight end position prior to the fifth round. Pittsburgh selected Matt Spaeth in the third round in 2007, Mike Tomlin’s first with the team, so it’s fitting that Gentry is even taller.
But also much more raw. He came to Michigan as a quarterback recruit but had already converted to tight end during his redshirt freshman season. He has more nuance as a receiver than as a blocker right now, and is obviously in need of development, but they obviously like his long-term potential.
Gentry fills a need after the Steelers lost Jesse James in free agency to the Detroit Lions, who nevertheless used their eight-overall pick to draft the top tight end prospect coming out. He’s unlikely to come in and be the number two behind Vance McDonald right away, so expect to see Xavier Grimble get a decent amount of those snaps, but he can be used in niche packages, perhaps in the red zone.
Johnson and Gentry. This is the final tally the Steelers have retrieved in exchange for Antonio Brown. It’s certainly not commensurate with what Brown’s on-field talent demands, at least based on pre-draft evaluations. But then again, Brown defied his pre-draft evaluation more than 99 percent of other players himself. We’ll have to see what this trade looks like four years from now.