Steelers can give Antonio Brown $4 million raise, avoid huge extension

PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers and Antonio Brown want to maintain a healthy marriage. Brown has no plans to miss training camp and says he will be there with a smile on his face.

Both sides respect each other. That hasn’t changed.

What also hasn’t changed is this: The league’s most productive wideout is not in the top 10 of highest-paid wideouts. Brown is due about $23 million over the final three years of his current deal, which places him in the Pierre Garcon/Victor Cruz range of money. That’s a tough sell for a player averaging nearly 120 catches and 1,600 yards over the last two seasons. Excellence is underpaid in this case.

Though the Steelers’ way is to avoid contract extensions unless a player has a year left on his deal, perhaps the Steelers could rearrange money to bolster Brown’s pay without affecting their salary cap.

I reached out to J.I. Halsell, a former Redskins salary cap analyst and purveyor of the Twitter handle @SalaryCap101, about how the Steelers could effectively pull this off – reward a productive and patient player without handcuffing the team on future business.

Here’s what Halsell suggested:

*From 2015-17, bump Brown from $22.96 million ($6 million, $8.25 million, $8.7 million) to $34.5 million, while adding two additional years to his deal.

*Create a $16 million signing bonus that’s prorated at $3.2 million until 2019.

*2015: $18.8 million payout (mostly the bonus), $9.787 million cap hit (no cap difference)

*2016: $5.512 million payout, $12.5 million cap hit ($462,000 cap increase)

*2017: $10.187 million payout, $15.475 million cap hit ($4.677 million cap increase)

*2018-19: $11.5 million each year, $14.7 million cap hit

*Average annual payout: $11.5 million

My take: This scenario has the Steelers giving Brown nearly $12 million in new money just for being him. That’s generous for a cost-effective team. But sometimes high-level, high-character players get rewarded, especially if cap hits on the back end of the current deal are already bloated. Twice the Seahawks increased Marshawn Lynch’s pay before they had to, with a raise in 2014 and a restructured deal in 2015. A mini-extension vaults Brown into a respectable financial range for his skill set without having to shatter megadeal standards for wide receivers. Just think, if Brown puts up two more huge years under his current deal, the Steelers would have to double down on Calvin Johnson-sized money ($113 million). A restructuring with new money avoids that process. Will the Steelers do this? Probably not. Brown’s not holding out and everything seems merry. But as we wrote in May, this situation doesn’t feel like it will go away.