PITTSBURGH -- Now that Antonio Brown’s business plans reminiscent of a loud, deep, resonant sound are complete, thanks to a massive four-year extension, both Brown and the Pittsburgh Steelers should feel confident in this deal.
Forget the Facebook Live fiasco. The team zoned in on a Brown deal as soon as the season ended, knowing his over-the-top work ethic and his deep-rooted love for receptions would offset the antics.
The details of how the four-year extension worth $68 million are structured are not yet clear, but the team's announcing a five-year deal, which could mean his remaining salary from the previous deal ($4.71 million) remains intact.
The team is including a sizable signing bonus of $19 million (per ESPN's Adam Schefter) to reward him up front and spread the money over the contractual years to assuage cap space.
Keep in mind: for as great as Le’Veon Bell is, a few scouts told me this week they'd still build an offense around Brown over Bell because of the nature of the wide receiver position in a pass-first game. While receivers are earning more, running backs are generally earning less, and Brown's deal reflects that trend. Bell got the exclusive franchise tag Monday, giving him and the Steelers all offseason to hash out a deal or decide if he plays on a one-year rental at $12.4 million.
The best problem for the Steelers to have: They won't have to choose between the two.
The Steelers will cover themselves here. They know this contract could have some dead money attached if Brown's play declines. But Brown, who turns 29 in July, has a few things working for him in this area. His game is built on speed and quickness, with a strong base supporting his 5-foot-10 frame. This isn't a tall and lanky body that breaks down easily. Assuming he avoids knee injuries, which he's done throughout his career, there's no reason why he can't stay productive into his early 30s. He's got chemistry with Ben Roethlisberger, his footwork and hands are among the league's most reliable and, hey, Larry Fitzgerald just won the receptions crown at age 33. Brown would be 33 by the time he plays out all five years, if he gets that far.
He might not, of course. But the Steelers can re-assess that in two-to-three years, as is the case with any mega-deal in the NFL. The escape door usually hits after year two. The Steelers were expected to have more than $30 million in cap space entering free agency on March 9. Based on the proration of the $19 million over five years plus the $4.71 million (again, assuming that's still in place), that's a cap hit of around $8.5 million, nearly $5 million less than his number as of Monday morning.
More importantly, the Steelers look poised to keep their big three together for the next few years. Bell will likely get his mega-deal, and Roethlisberger has another three good years left, maybe more.
Brown's distractions in the locker room or on the field have been minor in nature. His overall impact is far bigger. He's the team's biggest star, in part because he embraces the attention while Roethlisberger generally avoids the spotlight, but he sells more Steelers jerseys than any other. And with several receivers around the league making around $15 million, the Steelers couldn't disrespect Brown by going under that.
I sensed optimism around this deal for weeks, but it got done quicker than most expected.
Brown says he's about winning Super Bowls at this stage of his career. He'll have 68 million reasons to deliver.