The team would prefer to send Brown to an NFC team for competitive reasons, a source told ESPN. The New England Patriots and AFC North rivals are considered no-trade zones, and the Steelers would rather see Brown affect wins and losses in another conference, if possible.
General manager Kevin Colbert told local media Wednesday that the team will be judicious in how it selects Brown's potential destination.
"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."
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette first reported that the Patriots and the AFC North were considered no-trade zones for any deal involving Brown.
Going out of conference can be fairly common practice. In the past two years, the Patriots have sent wide receiver Brandin Cooks and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to the Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers of the NFC, though they also sent quarterback Jacoby Brissett to the Indianapolis Colts.
Brown is officially on the trading block after meeting with Steelers brass Tuesday in South Florida. Both parties agreed that it's best to work on a trade, though Colbert made it clear the team wants "significant compensation."
Some in NFL circles believe the Steelers are seeking a first-round pick. On Friday, Colbert appeared on NFL Network and revealed he is already fielding calls.
"Teams have reached out. I'd say we've had three teams that have touched base with us, and we'll see where that grows," Colbert said. "I think it will continue to grow."
Brown owns an NFL-record six consecutive 100-catch seasons, but he frustrated the organization when he failed to show up for a workday in Week 17, and he has used social media to express issues with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and coach Mike Tomlin.
Brown said on Instagram this week that he wants guaranteed money as part of any deal. He has base salaries of $12.625 million, $11.3 million and $12.5 million left on his contract. All of those salaries are not guaranteed, and he is due a $2.5 million roster bonus on March 17.