Earlier this week franchised tagged receivers Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas inked matching 5 year, 70 million dollar contracts. Those huge deals have got many Steelers fans sweating what Antonio Brown might demand on his next contract.
Next season A.J. Green and Julio Jones will be free agents and I guarantee you their deal will exceed the two that were just signed.
I think that Steelers fans’ worries that Antonio Brown is going to put the Steelers in cap trouble are misplaced. I believe the Steelers made a risky move by extending Brown in 2012 but it’s paying off for them in a huge way now.
Let’s take a moment to remember what was happening for the Steelers in the summer of 2012.
In 2012 the Steelers were coming off a season that was the height of the “young money crew.” Mike Wallace was a two time pro bowler with just 3 seasons of NFL experience. He had season of 750, 1257, and 1193 yards, and 6, 10, and 8 touchdowns. Wallace was on the path the become one of the best young receivers in the league.
Antonio Brown was coming off his first breakout season. He was the first player in NFL history with 1000 yards receiving and 1000 yards in returns in just his second NFL season.
The Steelers offered Wallace a 5 year, 42.5 million dollar extension which he balked at, so they gave it to Antonio Brown. I realize Brown had an impressive sophomore season, but there’s no question the Steelers over-paid him at the time. As a receiver Brown had just over 1000 yards and 2 touchdowns that season. What if Brown was a 1 year wonder? What if he couldn’t produce without Mike Wallace around to stretch the field? What if his small stature lead to injuries?
The Steelers took a big gamble extending Antonio so early in his career.
As we all know now, the Steelers hit the jackpot with that risky signing. So just how much of a discount are the Steelers getting with Antonio Brown?
In total value, Brown’s contract ranks 12th in the NFL behind guys like Mike Wallace, Vincent Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Randall Cobb, Victor Cruz, and Pierre Garcon.
Antonio Brown’s cap hits over the next 3 seasons are 9.8, 12, and 10.8 million. Compare that to Calvin Johnson’s cap hits of 20, 24, 21, 17, and 18 million over the next 5 years. I’d say Antonio Brown might be a better receiver than Megatron, and his cap hit is about half of the Lions’ star’s.
Getting such a high level of play, for such a manageable contract could really open things up for the Steelers in Big Ben’s remaining years. Maybe that extra room allows them to keep both Kelvin Beachum and David DeCastro when they otherwise couldn’t have. Or maybe it allows the Steelers to get some key pieces in free agency next year when LaMarr Woodley’s dead money comes off the books.
Why would the Steelers give Antonio Brown a big extension soon, and completely waste the advantage they gained by gambling on Antonio?
The Steelers have Antonio under contract for 3 more seasons. That’s a long time in terms of NFL seasons. If they wanted to they could franchise tag him after that to control him for a 4th year. After that, as much as it pains me to say, Antonio would be into his 30’s and Big Ben will likely be close to retirement and that means the Steelers will likely be rebuilding. Maybe at that point you let Brown walk. Hopefully by that time Martavis Bryant and Sammie Coates are tearing apart NFL secondaries.
I am sure that Antonio Brown isn’t crazy about everything I’ve said so far. He could always try to hold out and force the issue before the end of his contract. As we’ve seen in the past though, those tactics don’t work with the Steelers and I’m sure that Antonio is aware of that.
With so much time left on the deal too, what leverage does Brown really have? Is he willing to sit out for 2 entire seasons? I doubt it.
Obviously his outrageous amount of talent and production is his leverage… Like the Cowboys with Dez Bryant, the Steelers wouldn’t want to go into a season without him. I can guarantee you though that the team will not blink in a stare-down situation.
Maybe I’m completely wrong, and the Steelers will want to reward Antonio Brown early for outplaying his contract, but to me that would not be a wise business move. Obviously there’s a ton of factors that go into building a championship roster, but Brown’s steal of a contract could really be a huge advantage in getting back to the Superbowl.