Scott Fowler

Trade for Antonio Brown would net rare talent who could propel Panthers offense

If the Carolina Panthers don’t try hard to trade for Antonio Brown this offseason, they are making a big mistake.

I get that it would cause a salary-cap problem. I understand the Panthers are already heavily invested in their young receivers. I know Brown will turn 31 before the 2019 season.

But Brown is the sort of game-changer who is worth every off-field drama he would star in and every penny he would make.

Let me put it this way: Would you add an “in-his-prime” version of Steve Smith to the Panthers roster right now if you could?

Because that’s what Brown is – an undersized but dominant player who has caught 100-plus passes for six straight years. The fact that he and Cam Newton are already workout buddies is a nice bonus.

Yes, it would be costly. I would imagine Pittsburgh will ultimately obtain both a first-round draft pick and something else very good for Brown.

That’s OK. He’s worth it. Did you see the way Dallas’s offense transformed when they traded a first-round draft pick to Oakland for wide receiver Amari Cooper in midseason?

I’d glad give the Steelers the Panthers’ first-round pick in 2019 (No. 16 overall) for Brown. If that weren’t enough, I’d add another mid-round draft pick or any player on the roster outside of Carolina’s top five players.

Take Luke Kuechly, Christian McCaffrey, Newton, Trai Turner and DJ Moore off the table. Everyone else is fair game.

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Whatever salary-cap juggling you’d have to do for this would be worth it. And believe me, it can be done – in large part by releasing several underperforming veterans.

The final three years of Brown’s contract add up to slightly less than $39 million. A $13-million yearly average sounds like a lot until you realize that the best NFL receivers have started to command $18 million a season.

Can Brown be a diva? Sure. So can half the wide receivers in the NFL. At times, so were Smith, Keyshawn Johnson and Devin Funchess. The Panthers employed them all.

Yes, I know the Panthers have many other needs. And, of course, everyone has to hope that Newton’s shoulder isn’t permanently wrecked.

But acquiring a player like AB is a rare opportunity. You will never fill every need on an NFL team. It’s impossible. What you must have are enough strengths to compensate for the inevitable weaknesses.

For all of the Panthers’ potential on offense, the team only averaged 23.5 points per game in 2018, tied for a modest 14th among NFL teams.

The top four teams in points per game during the regular season? Kansas City, the L.A. Rams, New Orleans and New England.

Notice anything about that list?

That’s also the NFL’s final four, proving once again you must score in bunches to win in today’s NFL. Brown – who led the NFL in 2018 with 15 receiving TDs -- helps you do that.

The Panthers have to explore trading for AB.

If remotely possible, they should do it.

Sports columnist Scott Fowler has written for The Charlotte Observer since 1994. He has authored or co-authored eight books, including four about the Carolina Panthers. In 2018, Fowler won the Thomas Wolfe award for outstanding newspaper writing. He also hosted the Observer’s hit podcast “Carruth,” which Sports Illustrated named the best podcast of the year in 2018.