PITTSBURGH -- All that's left is the deal.
Antonio Brown has done all the work. He has requested a trade and used social media to highlight frustrations with the Pittsburgh Steelers and ask for guaranteed money. Steelers brass has met with Brown and the media. They've acknowledged trade efforts.
Now the stage is set for negotiations, which creates a new layer of questions.
Here's what's next in the Brown saga.
What did we learn about Brown's market from general manager Kevin Colbert's session with the media Wednesday?
That the Steelers are aiming high. Colbert must have said 20 different ways in his interview with local media: No way we're taking a discount. The Steelers have the game's most accomplished receiver of the past decade with good years left to offer.
"We're not going to move a significant player for less than significant compensation," Colbert said.
That aligns with league perspective. When asked about Brown's market, one NFL general manager didn't hesitate in saying the Steelers will go for a first-round pick. Teams entering conversations will know that, and many of those conversations will take place at next week's NFL scouting combine.
What's a workable time frame now that a trade is out in the open?
Colbert acknowledged that Brown's $2.5 million roster bonus due March 17 creates some urgency. "That could be a factor," Colbert said. "Could we get something done in the meantime? We’ll work towards that. We all understand what’s real and what isn’t."
Talks at the combine will largely determine what's real.
Is there really a chance the Steelers and Brown can reconcile?
There's no reason to question Colbert's sincerity when he says all relationships can be repaired. But saying that is a safe play because it doesn't hurt negotiations. Creating the perception that Brown could return can help the Steelers spark the market if the offers aren't good.
Even though the locker room largely would embrace Brown in 2019, he has created too much separation over the past two months. Bringing him back threatens a painfully awkward season, as Brown can make things difficult or even hold out, although that seems unlikely.
Notice that Mike Tomlin was not at the meeting with Brown on Tuesday in South Florida. Team president Art Rooney II, Colbert and executive Omar Khan were there. Perhaps Tomlin had previously scheduled arrangements, but there isn't much left to discuss between Brown and his coach.
Divorce proceedings have begun, and there's usually no coming back from that.
What is a new team getting in Brown, aside from the obvious talent?
Brown may have hurt his value with bizarre behavior over the past two months, but a new team will have two key factors working for it.
Money and motivation.
Brown still has a few years of top earning power left and intends to capitalize. That means fitting seamlessly into a new offense and culture without the headaches. A fresh start allows Brown to bury his issues in Pittsburgh.
Colbert cited Brown's request to take a social media picture with Rooney as a positive step.
Stephen A.: Steelers GM 'could not have made a worse statement'
Stephen A. Smith doesn't agree with Steelers GM Kevin Colbert's statement about Ben Roethlisberger's leadership, saying it denigrated other team members.
"I think that’s who Antonio Brown is," Colbert said. "Antonio Brown is, you guys have seen, a phenomenal football player, one of our best workers, if not the best. He’s a highly emotional player, a highly emotional practice player, preparer. And there are some times when he’s done some things that, again, we wish we weren’t in this situation, but it’s created, and we are recognizing it. But I think who Antonio Brown is, is more reflective on what he did [Tuesday] than what he’s done in the last few weeks."
Brown is also eager to remind fans he's not a Steelers creation, standing alone as a generational talent.
As one league source told me, all 32 teams should want a player of Brown's caliber.
Brown said on an Instagram video he wants guaranteed money from his new team. How does that affect the trade process?
Brown's manageable base salaries of $12.625 million, $11.3 million and $12.5 million (all non-guaranteed) will be attractive to new teams, but Brown's new demands don't have to hinder a deal.
All deals can be reworked. If the new team wants to take that remaining three-year, $38.925 million structure (including the roster bonus) and push more money into a signing bonus or a guaranteed first year, it can. Or it can add years to it. Or not do any of it.
The Steelers set a blueprint of sorts back in 2015 and 2016 when they advanced Brown a combined $8 million by moving money from future salaries into the current year. It's a way to satisfy the player now.
What happens if the Steelers near a deal with a team Brown doesn't want to play for?
Not much. Brown is an NFL player under contract, so unless he's willing to sit out the year, Brown really has limited sway. The team will keep Brown's camp posted, but that's about it.
"I mean, when you’re trading away a player like this who could determine your own record and your own Super Bowl potential, of course you want to not trade him to teams that might be a factor," Colbert said. "But if those teams step up and say, 'Look, we’ll give you the best picks or the best players,' then we have to make that judgment. OK, yeah, they’re a competitor, but what they’re giving us far exceeds what these other folks are willing to do. So will we be selective? It depends on what the compensation is."