Let’s take you down memory lane. Then Pittsburgh Steelers-wide receiver Antonio Brown seemed destined for Buffalo. He wanted out, the Steelers had no choice but to trade him, and late on March 9th, 2019, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport tweeted he was about to become a Bill.
It never happened.
Rapoport got it wrong and was met by a wave of denials from other media outlets and then the Bills themselves, who said they engaged in trade talks but never finalized an agreement. Ultimately, Brown would be shipped off to the Raiders for a third and fifth-round pick, never playing a down for them in one of Kevin Colbert’s greatest fleeces. To this day, Steelers’ fans still haven’t forgotten Rapoport’s reporting.
Fast forward to Wednesday. Appearing on Pat McAfee’s podcast in Arizona for this year’s Super Bowl, Rapoport revisited the moment and how he screwed up the report.
“Four offseasons ago, I get a tip that Antonio Brown is in the process of being traded to the Bills,” he told McAfee’s show. “It’s free agency and everyone is antsy and anxious. The whole offseason is, where is he going to be traded? So I get a tip that a trade is going down. It’s not done but they’re deep in talks but as long as he gets a new contract, gets the extension he wants, I break that he is close to the Bills.”
Here’s what Rapoport tweeted that seemingly broke the news of the Steelers sending Brown to the Bills.
A story he stuck by for the next hour even as other media types, and Brown himself, countered his tweet-port. At 12:30 AM, Rapoport appeared on NFL Network, describing how Brown would fit in Buffalo’s offense under QB Josh Allen and then-OC Brian Daboll.
But Bills’ GM Brandon Beane squashed the report the next morning, saying:
“We inquired about Antonio Brown on Tuesday, and kept talks open with the Steelers. We had positive discussions, but ultimately it didn’t make sense for either side. As great a player as Antonio Brown is, we have moved on and our focus is on free agency.”
So what happened? Clearly, Buffalo was in talks to trade for Brown. Rapoport didn’t miss the target by that much. According to Rapoport, it came down to money. Or a lack of.
“I was extremely comfortable with my source and I still am. Person who knew and was very much involved. And the deal broke down at 3:30 because he didn’t get a contract extension.”
Instead, he went to the Raiders, inking a three-year extension worth more than $50 million. But he never played for the Raiders, involved in a series of antics and drama ranging from burning his feet in a cryotherapy chamber to having issues with his helmet, to nearly getting into a fight with GM Mike Mayock. The Raiders released him on September 7th and he signed with the New England Patriots the same day. That, though, lasted just one game, and he wouldn’t find somewhat stable footing until landing in Tampa until he blew that opportunity, too.
For Rapoport, he owned up to the mistake then and said he’s adjusted his reporting style to hopefully avoid that happening ever again.
“It was not a good feeling. It changed the way I reported forever.”
Though a clear error by Rapoport, and no one is exactly feeling sorry for the NFL Network’s lead reporter who makes a boatload of money (for reference, ESPN’s Adam Schefter makes about $9 million per year) Rapoport is largely a reliable and trustworthy reporter who hasn’t had the public ethic controversies that Schefter has repeatedly found himself in. By all accounts, Rapoport seems like a good dude who made one bad mistake. He was too quick to announce the deal as done before it actually was. And as the rest of the league found out, nothing about AB is simple, easy, or happens as expected.