LATROBE, Pa. -- Ever the showman, Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown is expected to drive a Rolls-Royce to training camp at Saint Vincent College for the second straight year, according to the car manufacturer.
Not just any Rolls, but a Rolls-Royce Wraith with a space-inspired paint job, emblazoned with Steelers colors and "AB 84" on the doors. Brown did this last year with a custom Phantom as part of a Rolls promotion showcasing the star receiver.
Less holdout, more hop-out.
Brown brings luxury playmaking to the Steelers, but after the recent issues with Le'Veon Bell and Martavis Bryant, who are both facing suspensions, the team needs Brown to be something more -- part Rolls, part fighter jet, part cyborg.
As if Brown doesn't already do enough, the Steelers might ask him to catch 150 passes in 2016. This is not hyperbole. He's never been more important to the Steelers’ offense than he is right now, which makes his full participation in camp a blessing for the team.
ESPN's Adam Schefter reported this week that Brown will report to camp and is confident he'll eventually get a new contract. Brown, who enters the fifth year of a six-year, $43 million deal, knows he's underpaid, but he told ESPN in May that he was excited about participating in all team workouts before the 2016 season and that his contract would sort itself out eventually.
Brown and Ben Roethlisberger are the two constants that keep the Steelers’ offense treading water through the chaos. With Bell facing a four-game suspension and Bryant suspended for the season, the Steelers are looking to the Big Ben-Brown combo to ease the pain a bit.
After an NFL-record 264 catches in two seasons, Brown could have used Bell's possible suspension as leverage by holding out. It's wise that he didn't.
Worst case, Brown plays out this season at $6.25 million and gets a huge deal before his 29th birthday on July 10, 2017. My guess for 2016, though: The Steelers advance at least $2 million of his 2017 salary into this year, a restructuring tactic that got Brown over $8 million in 2015.
Of course, the Steelers have a longstanding policy not to negotiate with a player until he enters the final year of his current contract. If there were ever a non-quarterback for whom they'd break the rule, it's Brown, who will no doubt test their commitment to that policy. After settling on the extra $2 million last year, Brown's camp set its sights on flexibility in 2016. The Steelers, however, will want to cling to their tradition because of the precedent it sets.
Perhaps the sides can find middle ground this year and then break the bank in 2017 while letting Brown settle into a Larry Fitzgerald-like transition into his 30s.
As for what will happen on the field, don't be surprised if Brown surpasses 200 targets. He hit 195 last year despite Roethlisberger missing four games. Bell is an elite receiver, so his absence makes Brown an all-the-more-tempting presence downfield.
With Roethlisberger and Brown, the Steelers have a chance in every game.