NASHVILLE — The Tennessee Titans began this year's NFL draft trying to make the best of a tough situation.
The Titans traded wide receiver A.J. Brown on Thursday night, a move they insisted they didn't want to make — but one they felt they had to because they believed his asking price for a contract extension was too high.
Even with a year remaining on Brown's rookie deal, the Titans sent the former second-round pick to the Philadelphia Eagles for the No. 18 selection, which they used to take Arkansas receiver Treylon Burks.
General manager Jon Robinson called it a tough decision. The Titans had been negotiating with Brown's agents over the past few weeks, but the average salary per year for wide receivers has skyrocketed this offseason.
"The bar had kind of been raised on on that position, and we were trying to work through that and find some some common ground," Robinson said. "But in the end, just felt like it was at a spot we weren't going to be able to get to."
The Titans made the move a week after Robinson said he wouldn't trade Brown prior to the draft. Robinson said the trade came together over the past 18 to 20 hours. The Titans also received a third-round selection, No. 101 overall.
Mike Vrabel had said a couple times this offseason that Brown would be on the roster as long as he was Tennessee's coach — but he couldn't make that happen.
"Unfortunately, we understand that if we're going to be here a while, we're not going to be able to keep every single player that we draft and develop," Vrabel said.
With Brown under contract for the upcoming season, the Titans could have used a franchise tag to keep him around for 2023.
"All options were on the table," Robinson said. "In the end, when the scenario presented itself to get value pick-wise now, that was the decision that we felt was best."
Tennessee traded out of the first round, dealing the No. 26 selection and the 101st pick to the New York Jets. The Titans received Nos. 35, 69 and 163 getting them back into the second round after including their 2022 second-round pick in last June's trade with the Atlanta Falcons for seven-time Pro Bowl receiver Julio Jones, who was released last month.
Thursday night's moves gives the Titans a total of four selections in the first 90 picks of this draft. They came in with only two within the first 90. Tennessee now has 10 total draft selections, three more than it had coming into this draft.
Brown wrote on social media that he loved Tennessee and "THIS WAS NOT MY FAULT" in a tweet that was quickly deleted. He then simply wrote on Twitter, "I love y'all Tennessee."
The 51st pick overall out of Ole Miss in 2019, Brown had been the best receiver drafted by the franchise since the organization moved to Tennessee in 1997. He was as Pro Bowl selection in 2020 but has played a full NFL regular season only as a rookie. He has 185 career catches for 2,995 yards and 24 touchdowns.
Injuries limited Brown to 13 games last season, when he led the Titans with 63 catches for 869 yards and five touchdowns. He also ranked 10th in the NFL with eight dropped passes, according to Pro Football Focus.
Brown had been very active on social media about wanting a new deal from the Titans. He was caught on video talking with San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Deebo Samuel recently, making clear the Titans weren't going above $20 million a year.
Several Titans quickly reacted to the trade news. All-Pro safety Kevin Byard tweeted out three angry face emojis, then wrote "Congrats my brotha! I'm still sick tho" with several emojis to Brown.
This move leaves the Titans without both of their top two receivers from last season. They traded for Robert Woods from the Los Angels Rams, but he is recovering from an ACL tear sustained last November.
Burks patterned certain parts of his game after Brown and had hoped to play with him. Burks learned Brown had been traded when he glanced at Instagram after taking a call from the Titans telling him they had selected him.
Before learning of Brown's situation, Burks said: "I'm going to do what I do what I do best and just go out there and play football."
The 6-foot-2, 225-pound receiver caught 146 passes for 2,399 yards and 18 touchdowns at Arkansas. He had 66 receptions for 1,104 yards and 11 scores as a junior in 2021 and made the All-Southeastern Conference team as only the fourth Arkansas receiver with a 1,000-yard season.