By Bry McDermott | Asst. Photo Editor
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown signed a four-year contract extension worth $68 million on Monday, making the 29-year-old the highest paid receiver in the National Football League.
However, with the big price tag comes some big questions for the Steelers on how to manage Brown’s off-field antics and a salary cap that just got a whole lot tighter.
It was only a month and a half ago that Brown was fined $10,000 by the Steelers for sharing a 17-minute long Facebook Live video of the team celebrating in the locker room after defeating the Kansas City Chiefs in the divisional round of playoffs.
The video not only violated the NFL’s social media policy, which prohibits players from posting online before addressing the media, but also included nude players and a profanity-riddled speech by head coach Mike Tomlin.
Coincidentally, Tomlin told players to “keep a low profile” during the video, with an unidentifiable voice chiming in to say, “keep cool on social media.”
Brown’s live-video fiasco has since been deleted from his Facebook page, which has close to 669,000 likes, but it shows the lack of respect he has for his fellow teammates and coaching staff.
Tomlin went as far as to call Brown “foolish,” “selfish” and “inconsiderate” for the ordeal, adding that these situations can often lead to players moving on to other teams.
But not in this situation.
Instead, Brown was given a slap on the wrist and then rewarded with an obscenely large contract extension.
Unfortunately for morale’s sake, he’s worth every dollar of that extension.
Brown has risen from a sixth-round draft pick in 2010 to one of the best receivers in the NFL in seven seasons. He has been selected for the Pro Bowl five times, named First-Team All-Pro three times, led the league in receptions in both 2014 and 2015 and led the NFL in receiving yards in 2014.
In 2016, Brown ended the season with 106 catches for 1,284 yards and 12 touchdowns in just 15 games.
The extension will carry Brown through the 2021 season, since 2017 will be the final year of his previous five-year, $42 million contract. This could possibly keep the Florida-native in Pittsburgh for the duration of his career, as Brown will be 33 at the end of his contract, and the average retirement age for the NFL is just 30 years old, according to ESPN: The Magazine.
However, the contract proposes a possible salary cap issue for the Steelers.
On Monday, the team announced it gave running back Le’Veon Bell its franchise tag, meaning that he is not allowed to negotiate with any team except the Steelers. Pittsburgh has until July 15 to strike a long-term deal with Bell, or the 25-year-old will be signed to a one-year contract worth roughly $12 million, according to CBS Sports.
The Steelers entered into Monday with about $36 million in space for a growing salary cap estimated to be between $166 million and $170 million. After the Brown deal and tagging Bell, that number has shrunk to a minuscule $8.5 million, giving Pittsburgh little room to do much else in the offseason.
Additionally, the Steelers re-signed linebacker James Harrison to a 2-year contract, which will lower the cap room even more. Harrison was a valuable leader for the defense last season and the Steelers will hope he can keep playing well even at his age.
These moves are smart by the Steelers. Both Bell and Brown could garner much larger contracts if they were to hit free agency, as bidding wars would most likely break out amongst interested teams.
It’s hard to tell just how much Pittsburgh will be willing to dish out to Bell, or if the team can reel in Brown’s shenanigans, but one thing is for sure: It’s going to be an interesting five years for the Steelers.
Just try to stay off Facebook Live. Please.