Antonio Brown remains a Pittsburgh Steeler after the trade reported late Thursday evening with the Buffalo Bills was sabotaged by the self-destructive star receiver — hardly a surprise.
That didn't prevent the rest of the NFL — even the Steelers — from conducting a whirlwind of trade business Friday, five days before deals can officially be consummated by the opening of the new league year.
After a morning in which the details of Brown nixing his trade to Buffalo trickled out, the first brokered trade that figures to stick was reported: the Cleveland Browns will send Pro Bowl OG Kevin Zeitler to the New York Giants in exchange for Pro Bowl pass rusher Oliver Vernon.
Both established players approach their age-29 seasons with limited remaining guarantees on their deals, making this one fairly cut and dried: the Browns needed a bookend opposite Myles Garrett, and Vernon wreaks a ton of havoc as a two-way edge player; and the Giants sought a reliable guard opposite promising rookie Will Hernandez and secured arguably the best option available this offseason.
But because Cleveland appears much better equipped to replace Zeitler without sacrificing significant additional resources, and because we expect the Browns to compete for a Super Bowl next season, we'll give the snap judgment edge to GM John Dorsey. Vernon and Garrett, flanking rising star DT Larry Ogunjobi, gives new DC Steve Wilks a wealth of firepower up front, and the newcomer should be a great fit as a 4-3 weak-side end, more so than a stand-up rush 'backer in James Bettcher's system.
The Giants traded Vernon on the heels of dealing Jason Pierre-Paul last offseason, leaving hog-mollie-loving GM Dave Gettleman with, well, very few proven hogs who can feast on quarterbacks. Yes, it's a rich draft for said prospects, but seemingly everyone in their right mind thinks the Giants, with the 6th overall pick, can't possibly punt on another prime chance to find Eli Manning's successor. The void left by Vernon at least raises the question: Could Gettleman draft defense with his first pick?
If you thought Gettleman was already getting dragged this offseason, imagine the reaction if the scenario outlined above materializes.
Cardinals land starting OT
Shortly after the Zeitler-Vernon swap was agreed to, the Steelers reached a deal with the Arizona Cardinals to send RT Marcus Gilbert to the desert for a sixth-round pick. The Cardinals happily will take on Gilbert's $4.9 million cap hit in 2019, the last year of his deal, to stabilize one edge of the NFL's worst offensive line last season.
Gilbert hasn't been himself over the past couple years but still represents an upgrade over free agent-to-be Joe Barksdale. Whether it's Josh Rosen or Kyler Murray behind center in Week 1, they'll appreciate this addition. Kliff Kingsbury and Steve Keim can also now take a longer-view approach with whichever tackles they draft this offseason, if not deprioritizing the position a bit overall in a rich defensive draft. That's smart for an organization that has failed miserably to develop edge blockers and didn't really give its young quarterback an earnest shot to succeed last season.
And because the Steelers reportedly get only a sixth-rounder in return for Gilbert, it's clear this was a decision driven by their cap. But they do have in-house replacement candidates, including 2018 third-rounder Chukwuma Okorafor and former fourth-rounder Gerald Hawkins. After re-signing C Maurkice Pouncey, RG Ramon Foster and valuable utility man B.J. Finney earlier in the week, the Steelers still have enviable O-line continuity, even following this deal. Moreover, they have capably replaced Gilbert when he was suspended or injured in recent seasons.
Another Bennett in Foxboro
Finally, SBLII participants Philadelphia and New England struck a deal that's expected to send Michael Bennett and his remaining $14 million due over the next two seasons to the Patriots, who probably view him as a cheaper alternative to free agent Trey Flowers. How Bennett responds to the deal after saying he expects his new team to provide some new paper remains to be seen.
But purely from a football fit, this is an excellent one with Bennett having the inside-outside rush versatility and strength vs. the run and pass that New England figures to lose in Flowers. Bennett, like his brother Martellus, is a different type of cat, but the success Bill Belichick had in acquiring the tight end probably bodes well for the new dynamic.
The Eagles aren't better without Bennett, their financials are, and that was always the bottom line this offseason for Howie Roseman, who has one of the tightest cap situations in the league. That he acquired Bennett from Seattle last offseason for a seventh-rounder and now turns him around reportedly for fifth- and seventh-rounders next year makes it more palatable.
· In addition to trades, a number of high-profile players were handed their walking papers outright Friday. The Jaguars cut DT Malik Jackson, FS Tashaun Gipson and RB Carlos Hyde, all relatively expected moves that help clean up their cap before the imminent release and replacing of Blake Bortles, most likely with Nick Foles.
· The Detroit Lions cut veteran starting RG T.J. Lang after two seasons, and the immediate dot connecting leads to him potentially reuniting with the Packers, who have a big hole at right guard. Whether the Lions have an in-house replacement for Lang in last year's fifth-round value selection of Tyrell Crosby remains to be seen.