BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Bills fans were jolted with major breaking news just before midnight one night in March 2019: Star receiver Antonio Brown was said to be headed to Buffalo.
Social media erupted. Fans dreamed of Josh Allen’s development with an elite wideout on the team. The only problem: The trade was never finalized. Brown never became a Bill.
NFL Network insider Ian Rapoport was asked about his biggest miss on a recent podcast hosted by Sports Illustrated media reporter Jimmy Traina. Rapoport immediately recalled the Antonio Brown story, and said the fallout changed how he goes about his job.
“Everybody was wondering, where were the Steelers going to trade Antonio Brown? And I get the scoop: the Steelers and Bills are close on a deal,” Rapoport recalled. “And they had agreed on compensation. And I knew what the compensation was: It was swapping first-round picks, and then a little bit extra. So I was good on all of it. So I report the Steelers and Bills are close to a deal to send Antonio Brown to Buffalo, and then I used an exclamatory phrase, something like ‘there it is‘ or something like that. Which was true.
“What I didn’t know at the time was that Antonio Brown had talks about a long-term extension with the Bills, and I didn’t know if they were going to be able to come to terms. And that was the most important part of it. And instead of me being like, take a deep breath, and being like, call Buffalo, call [agent] Drew Rosenhaus, call people at the Steelers, make sure this is going to happen…”
He hit send.
“At 3 in the morning, talks broke down. That deal was off.”
Although Rapoport’s wording may have been technically correct, he said when he or other insiders report teams are close to a deal, “that deal better happen.”
Bills GM Brandon Beane released a statement at 7:46 a.m. the next morning to address to report.
“We inquired about Antonio Brown on Tuesday, and kept talks open with the Steelers,” the statement read. “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.”
“It was bad,” Rapoport said. “I talked to Bills people in the morning and it was not pretty. They were mad. And it changed the way I reported. It literally changed the way I did everything.
“And what’s annoying is like, first off, I was right. Well, nobody cares. … If he’s not on the Bills, it’s wrong. I can say whatever I want to make myself feel better — if he’s not on the Bills, the story was not correct,” Rapoport said.
“But it changed the way I did things. Because now, even if I have two sources, you have to have all sides covered, and you have to have all bases covered. So if two people are doing a trade but a guy needs a new contract because of it, you better make sure that guy’s getting a contract. And so like it really forced me to be much more conscientious. I’m sure there are stories I’ve lost on because I’ve waited to make sure that this is happening or the guy passed his physical or whatever. And that’s all fine, because the alternative is way worse.
“Wrong is way worse.”
The Bills ended up going 10-6 in 2019, earning a wild-card berth before losing a playoff game to the Texans in chaotic and heartbreaking fashion. Josh Allen showed flashes of greatness that season but didn’t become a star until the following year — which coincided with the acquisition of receiver Stefon Diggs.
The Bills used their first-round pick in 2019 on defensive tackle Ed Oliver. Pittsburgh later traded up from 20 to 10 to select linebacker Devin Bush.
Brown’s career dropped off after leaving Pittsburgh. He ended up being traded to the Raiders that offseason, but complained his way off the team before playing in a game. He appeared in just 16 games since, riding Tom Brady’s coattails in New England and Tampa when no one else would take a chance on him. The Buccaneers released him after he took off his pads and left the field during a game in January 2022.
Bills fans might have been disappointed this report didn’t come true in 2019, but it definitely seems to have worked out for the best.