Beckham Jr. or Antonio Brown to the 49ers? Chris Biderman breaks down the search for a star wide receiver
Kyle Shanahan knew the questions about Antonio Brown were going to come.
The 49ers’ coach hadn’t fielded questions on the topic of possibly trading for the embattled receiver since Brown’s relationship with the Pittsburgh Steelers soured and both sides agreed this month it would be best to move on.
“I cannot talk about another player that’s not under contract with us,” Shanahan said, robotically. However, Shanahan did admit he has not personally contacted Pittsburgh’s brass about the possibility of a trade.
“I haven’t,” he said. “Not that I know of.”
Shanahan was willing to expound on the idea of a trade without mentioning Brown specifically. The often-transparent coach discussed with reporters Wednesday at the NFL Combine the balance that goes into making a complicated decision like adding a polarizing player.
During his two years on the job, Shanahan has made it clear he prizes locker-room culture and accountability, two things that might be at risk in acquiring Brown, whose behavior behind the scenes in Pittsburgh appears to be leading to his departure.
“We try to hold everyone accountable on our team and we’re pretty consistent with that, and there’s not much to talk about,” Shanahan said. “So, I mean, if someone isn’t like that, then we do have a problem with that. I don’t think anyone’s good enough to deal with that.”
Brown led the NFL with 15 touchdowns catches last season and set a record with for most catches (582) over a five-year span (2013-17). The 49ers are moving on from veteran starter Pierre Garçon, leaving an obvious void at receiver after finishing with the league’s worst red-zone offense.
Shanahan indicated he’s willing to take a deeper look into the situation with Brown and the Steelers. There’s a belief Brown might not be entirely at fault for the situation in Pittsburgh, and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger might deserve some responsibility for Brown’s deteriorating relationship with the team. A change in scenery could be just what Brown needs as he continues his Hall-of-Fame trajectory.
Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert ruffled feathers recently when he told reporters, “(Roethlisberger’s) got 52 kids under him, quite honestly. I want them to step up and say, ‘Hey Ben, what do I have to do? Can I do this better? What do we have to do to win a Super Bowl?’”
Colbert clarified the situation when he spoke at the combine Wednesday, indicating it’s no sure thing Brown has played his last game for Pittsburgh.
“We’ve acknowledged we are looking into the possibility of trading him,” Colbert said. “What we also acknowledged is that we will only make a trade if it benefits the Pittsburgh Steelers. He knows that, his representation knows that, it has clearly been explained and we are willing to take a look, and if there is something that can be done to benefit both sides, then great. If not, then we’ll deal with that when we get there.
“... When referencing 52 kids, what I was referencing is Ben Roethlisberger is the only player on our roster that has won a Super Bowl. I’ve had that conversation not only with Ben, I had that conversation with Maurkice Pouncey, I had that conversation with Cameron Heyward right after the season during our exit interviews, so anytime I say anything in media, I am not afraid to say it to our players and probably have said it to them prior to that.”
The compensation for Brown might be difficult for the 49ers to give up. Their No. 2 overall pick in the draft is too high a price, but it might take a first-round choice to get him, like the Cowboys offered the Raiders for Amari Cooper at the trade deadline midway through last season. It could take San Francisco’s first-round choice in 2020 — or perhaps a package including their high-second round pick in April — No. 36 overall.
Shanahan indicated the 49ers were going to take a hard look at adding receivers through free agency and the draft while hoping incumbents could improve to make up for the absence of Garçon. Dante Pettis, Marquise Goodwin, Kendrick Bourne and Trent Taylor are the team’s top receivers.
“I want them to take it to another level,” Shanahan said, “or I want to bring in people that can get them to take it to another level. Or, I want to bring in people to pass them, and that’s just what you do.”