SPORTS

Antonio Brown’s big-money deal won’t cripple Steelers

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 Steelers met with agent Drew Rosenhaus several times over the past six weeks.

Brown’s $68 million of new money, first reported by ESPN’s Adam Schefter, includes a $19 million signing bonus that will be spread over five years to potentially assuage cap space. He’ll also get the $4.71 million of 2017 salary from his previous deal, followed by the remaining $49 million or so over the final four years, for a total of $72.71 million.

The Steelers will cover themselves here. They know this contract could have some dead money attached if Brown’s play declines. But the small initial salary gives Brown incentive to play well into his 30s.

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 has throughout his career, there’s no reason he can’t stay productive. He has 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 reassess that in two or three years, as is the case with any megadeal in the NFL. The escape door usually hits after Year 2. The Steelers were expected to have more than $30 million in cap space entering free agency on March 9. Brown’s cap hit was already $13-plus-million, so the new deal should increase that slightly but not by much, depending how they account for the old signing-bonus money.



Keep in mind: For as great as Le’Veon Bell is, a few scouts told me this week they would 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 generally are earning less — and Brown’s deal reflects that trend. Bell got the exclusive franchise tag on Monday, giving him and the Steelers all offseason to hash out a deal or decide if he will play on a one-year rental at $12.4 million.

The best problem for the Steelers is that they won’t have to choose between the two players. And they look poised to keep their big three together for the next few years. Bell will likely get his megadeal, 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 is 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 anyone else. And with several receivers around the league making about $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 said he’s all about winning Super Bowls at this stage of his career. He’ll have 68 million reasons to deliver.