Same old faces, new places for NFL star players

  • Nick Celario

The NFL is going to look weird next season.

With a slew of recent trades, some of the league’s bonafide stars will don different helmets and jerseys in 2019. Players that you associated with a franchise are no longer with the teams that built them into studs.

But as is with professional sports, and as the saying goes, it’s the nature of the business.

I’m sure some of you are stoked that your team landed the big-time player, that some of you are heartbroken that your team let that dude go.

But for what it’s worth, here are my thoughts on some of the big transactions:

OBJ a Brown

  • Cleveland Browns acquired receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and defensive end Olivier Vernon from New York Giants for safety Jabrill Peppers, guard Kevin Zeitler, 2019 first-round draft pick (No. 17) and third-round pick (No. 95)

No matter what you think about the Browns, you can’t say that they’re not making moves.

Cleveland got another big-time piece for quarterback Baker Mayfield in Beckham Jr. Add him to an offense that will also feature running backs Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb, receiver Jarvis Landry and tight end in David Njoku.

Granted, Cleveland chose an unknown commodity in new head coach Freddie Kitchens, who was the team’s offensive coordinator last year and was the running backs coach the year before. How he will pan out as the lead man remains to be seen.

But the biggest takeaway for me is that the team is all-in on Mayfield.

Whether or not he becomes a successful QB in the NFL after becoming last year’s No. 1 overall pick out despite some question marks, it won’t be because the team didn’t put talent around him.

And also, let’s pump the brakes on the talk about the Browns going all the way, at least right now.

Cleveland undoubtedly had its best season in recent years, going 7-8 in 2018 and winning five of its last seven games. The division appears to have gotten weaker, and the Browns seem to be on the up and up.

But, the Browns first have to make the playoffs before they can go for a championship. Cleveland last got to the postseason in 2002, and the last time before that was in 1994.

Let’s see if they can do that, and also go deep in the playoffs, before we talk about a title.

AB in Silver and Black

  • Pittsburgh Steelers traded receiver Antonio Brown to Oakland Raiders for 2019 third-round draft pick (No. 66) and fifth-round pick (No. 141)

This trade also hinged on whether the Raiders could come to terms with Brown with a deal that would give him the kind of guaranteed money he couldn’t get from the Steelers. Oakland signed the star wideout to a three-year, $50.125 million deal.

After the disaster that was Jon Gruden’s return to Oakland last season, the team had to make moves. Getting arguably the best receiver in the league could soften the blow.

The Raiders essencially replace former first-round pick WR Amari Cooper, who was traded to the Dallas Cowboys mid-season, with Brown.

Also, the Raiders signed former New England offensive lineman Trent Brown to a four-year, $66M deal and former LA Chargers receiver Tyrell Williams to a four-year, $44M deal.

Gruden is loading up on offense, but other than that, this seems to be a pivotal year for QB Derek Carr.

After a 2016 season in which several pundits pegged Carr to be in the running for MVP and signing to a five-year, $125M extension, Carr has had less than stellar seasons in ‘17 and ‘18.

Rumors surfaced last season that Carr might not be with the team when the Raiders head to Las Vegas (yuck) if his struggles continued. So if Carr is to pull the plug on those notions this season, having AB in the fold should help.

Bell headed for Big Apple

  • New York Jets reportedly will sign free agent running back Le’Veon Bell to a four-year, $52.5M contract; deal not yet officially announced

My deepest sympathies for all of you who drafted Bell in fantasy football last year.

Bell shocked the league and fans last year when he opted to sit out all of 2018 after the Steelers placed the franchise tag him. He became a free agent when Pittsburgh didn’t put the franchise or transition tag on him for 2019.

He got the long-term deal he wanted that the Steelers didn’t want to give him from the Jets. And, Bell will be in the backfield with second-year QB Sam Darnold.

But, I can only imagine the kind of turmoil Steelers fans must be feeling right now after the team has let go two of its biggest stars in Bell and Brown.

Time will tell whether 2019 is a rebuilding year for the Steelers, or if the team has instead reloaded with receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and running back James Conner in place.

By the way, for those of you don’t know Conner’s story:

Conner was a stud college RB for the University of Pittsburgh. During his junior year at Pitt, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. A little over a year later after several rounds of chemotherapy, he declared he was cancer-free.

In 2017, he became a third-round selection for the hometown Steelers.

Last year, he became the team’s starter when Bell opted to hold out and became a Pro Bowler.

How inspirational is that story? Just, wow.

•••

Nick Celario, sports writer, can be reached at 245-0437 or ncelario@thegardenisland.com.

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