Steelers Have the Santonio Holmes Trade to Thank For Antonio Brown
During their 31-24 win against the Baltimore Ravens in the divisional round, he caught three passes, including a perfectly thrown 58-yard bomb from Ben Roethlisberger late in the fourth quarter on a third-and-19 that helped to set up the game-winning touchdown. In the AFC Championship game, a 24-19 win over the New York Jets, Brown caught just one pass, but it came on a third-and-six that all but sealed the win for the Steelers and punched their ticket to the Super Bowl. He also helped set up that game-clinching drive with a 30-yard kickoff return to put the Steelers at mid-field, taking some of the pressure off of their offense.
Said head coach Mike Tomlin after Sunday's game, "That's pretty funny, isn't it? Third and six to win the game to a rookie from Central Michigan, but those guys have been proving they belong here for the better part of the second half of the season."
Also funny? How the Steelers ended up with the rookie from Central Michigan. Had they not traded Santonio Holmes to the New York Jets prior to the season, there's a good chance that Brown wouldn't even be a member of the Steelers.
Here's the chain of events that made it all happen:
On April 12, 2010, after a tumultuous offseason, the Steelers traded Holmes, a former Super Bowl MVP who was facing a four-game suspension at the start of the season, to the New York Jets for the bargain basement price of a fifth-round draft pick. It was a move that was widely panned as a complete giveaway. (And in terms of talent ... it kind of was.)
Two weeks later, on the third day of the NFL draft, the Steelers used the fifth-round pick they received from the Jets in the Holmes trade to acquire cornerback Bryant McFadden, a starter in the Steelers secondary this season, from the Arizona Cardinals, as well as a sixth-round pick (No. 195 overall).
That sixth-round pick was used to select Brown.
Had the Steelers not traded Holmes it's not a stretch to think they would be without one -- or perhaps both -- of their current rookie receivers: Brown and third-round pick Emmanuel Sanders, who has also become a key part of the passing game. Neither player is better than Holmes at this point in their respective careers, but a convincing argument can be made that it's improved the long-term outlook of the Steelers passing game. For one, the meteoric rise of second-year player Mike Wallace as one of the NFL's elite playmakers more than made up for the loss of Holmes' big-play ability. On top of that, the selections -- and rapid development -- of Sanders and Brown has given the Steelers a trio of young, athletic playmakers, all of whom are under the age of 24, that will be under their control for the foreseeable future.
If the Steelers had kept Holmes, he would have also been eligible for free agency after this season and it's not a given he would have been re-signed, simply because the Steelers have a number of other key players that could hit the open market, including cornerback Ike Taylor, as well as linebacker LaMarr Woodley and injured offensive tackle Willie Colon. Keeping all of them would have been a problem.
Including the playoffs, Brown has been targeted just 26 times, but he's managed to catch 20 of the passes (that's a 76 percent completion percentage) for 256 yards (almost 10 yards per attempt) with 12 of them going for first downs.
Not bad for a sixth-round rookie that was pretty much an afterthought on draft day.