Seattle has a perfect record, an MVP-candidate quarterback and an emerging young talent at wide receiver. Is it really worth the risk to rock the boat with Antonio Brown?
It took the Seahawks nearly a decade to build a version of their roster that is both complementary to and sympatico with quarterback Russell Wilson. It’s a journey that brought the team one Super Bowl victory, one high-profile Super Bowl loss and a smattering of stories exploring the various ways in which Wilson and his generational, cacophonous defense could not get along, leading to a messy divorce.
Now, sitting at 5–0, with their quarterback on an MVP trajectory for the first time in his career and the offense developing one of the best ascending talents at the wide receiver position in the NFL, there is some semblance of peace in Renton. The obvious inclination, then, is to add Antonio Brown to the mix and roll a quarter-stick of dynamite into the meadow.
There is a chance, of course, that Brown is a “changed man” after his suspension from the NFL that resulted, in part, from a Sports Illustrated piece on his various transgressions and the subsequent threats he made to sources in that story. Before that, Brown forced his way out of Pittsburgh with a series of seemingly calculated and erratic moves. Then, he forced his way out of Oakland, calming down only after he landed in the warm embrace of Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the perpetually title-bound Patriots.
Seattle is an organization of similar standing, which means that the team is counting on getting the best out of Brown without any of the perceived side effects. The Seahawks could also be signing someone with a history of behavior that, in an on-field context, has the potential to destroy a locker room and alienate some of the team’s best players. They will also need to prepare a way to wave off his history of alleged abuse, sexual misconduct and threatening behavior.
The question is: Does it all seem worth it?
When a team feels a Super Bowl within its grasp, there is always a push to accumulate more talent, to steel the roster against any and every perceived imperfection. The Ravens, on Thursday afternoon, traded for Yannick Ngakoue despite already having one of the highest pass-rush win rates in football, not to mention one of the three best overall defenses in the league. This coming trade deadline should be one of the more egregious power grabs in recent NFL history given the significant gap between the haves and have-nots in 2020.
But there has always been a difference between getting better incrementally through smart trades and free agency savvy and the needless, naked microwaving of a roster with talent that is on the market for a reason. Teams always have to wrestle with that internal calculous and whether they think the erosion of time will help people forget why someone like Brown was eligible to sign this late in the season in the first place.
It’s just difficult to imagine why, with so many other pressing needs, the Seahawks are leaning so hard in this direction, as Pete Carroll indicated with his comments this week. The Seahawks lead the NFL in offensive DVOA. Russell Wilson leads the league in touchdown passes. On passes in which Wilson targets D.K. Metcalf, his passer rating is 130. I would imagine that even adding a more explosive tight end option would positively diversify this offense more, with much less of a risk than adding Brown.
The team is also 26th in defensive DVOA. Its top cornerback is allowing an opposing quarterback rating of 108.7 and an opposing quarterback completion percentage near 70. They are a middle-of-the-road pass rushing team. There are plenty of improvements to be made that don’t involve a wide receiver.
And while I get the logic—basically ensuring that you can compensate for a bad defense by outscoring anyone on offense—I’m not 100% sure Seattle has run the cost-benefit analysis in its entirety. Brown, historically, has shown he can sink a season just as quickly as he can make one.
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