*UPDATE: On Friday morning, Bills general manager Brandon Beane released a statement saying the team is no longer pursuing a trade for Steelers receiver Antonio Brown. *
Pittsburgh is closing in on a deal to trade the disgruntled wide receiver to the Bills, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported late Thursday night, via a source close to the situation.
As far as compensation, Rapoport was told that the parties are not yet ready to disclose the particulars.
As interested teams such as the Broncos, Jets, Redskins, Titans and Raiders bowed out of the Brown sweepstakes, the receiver-needy Bills flew under the radar until late Thursday, Rapoport added. With a $2.5 million roster bonus looming on March 17, the Steelers had set an unofficial deadline of Friday to resolve the situation.
Ever since Brown skipped the team's Saturday walkthrough and left Sunday's game at halftime in the all-important season finale, general manager Kevin Colbert has maintained that the organization would not trade the four-time All Pro selection at a significantly discounted rate.
"Antonio Brown is one of the best players in the National Football League," Colbert said late last month. "We'd like to have him on our team, so if you lose a player like that, if you decide to take a player like that off your team, you best have the compensation that will justify removing that player.
And that would be significant compensation either in the form of a draft pick or picks, or a player and picks just so you can try to balance off the great loss that will happen if you lose a player like that."
"I don't take any blame," he explained last week. "I just think I took responsibility for my situation. I didn't point a finger, I didn't make anybody feel bad, I didn't throw no stones at anyone."
Lacking blue-chip talent and marquee names, the Bills mortgaged their 2018 season to free up salary cap space for 2019 and beyond. With 10 draft picks and roughly $73 million in cap room, general manager Brandon Beane could afford to take a chance on a mercurial talent capable of transforming his team's offense.
One of the best receivers of the 21st century, Brown has built a convincing Hall of Fame case on the strength of a half-decade of production that stands toe-to-toe with any modern wideout. Although his per-game average dropped 23 yards last season, he still led the NFL in receiving touchdowns (15) and authored one of the finest offensive performances of the year versus the Saints in a Week 16 thriller.
That said, it's fair to wonder how much his efficiency will suffer without benefit of Roethlisberger's strong, accurate arm and improvisational ability.
Buffalo's Josh Allen was one of the league's most scattershot passers as a rookie last season. To spin it positively, however, the former Wyoming star boasts an exceptionally strong arm and shares a young Roethlisberger's penchant for holding the ball, escaping pressure and stressing defenses as the play breaks down. As one of the best ever at cutting off his route and instinctively finding an open crease in the defense on ad libbed plays, Brown should be a godsend for second-year quarterback.
The Steelers, on the other hand, will build their aerial attack around 22-year-old JuJu Smith-Schuster, who earned his first Pro Bowl nod en route to beating out Brown for team MVP honors. With little proven depth beyond the third-year playmaker, Pittsburgh will be in the market for reinforcements in free agency and the draft.