It was reported yesterday that Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown is seeking a new contract following two consecutive All-Pro seasons during which he broke the franchise’s single-season receiving yardage record, taking down both the receptions and receiving touchdown records along with him as well in 2014.
Brown led the league in both receptions and receiving yardage last season with 129 and 1698, respectively, and that reception total was the second-most in a single season in NFL history. Over the span of the past two seasons, the five-year veteran has accumulated 239 receptions for 3197 yards and 21 touchdowns.
That is surely production that not even the Steelers envisioned for their young wide receiver back in 2012 after he came off of a bit of a breakout sophomore season, becoming the first player in league history to record over 1000 yards as both a receiver and a returner in the same year.
Brown was only an occasional contributor as a rookie, but he gradually emerged in year two as Hines Ward was slowly phased out of the offense and draftmate Emmanuel Sanders missed five games due to injuries.
It was clear then that Brown was on the ascent, but neither he nor the team knew the extent of his rise that we have seen over the course of the past two years. In truth, both parties took a gamble on the contract extension that they agreed to in the summer of 2012.
For Brown, he chose to cash in early after a good outing as a bit of a surprise emerging player, even though he likely knew he would probably get a bigger contract if he was able to duplicate or better that performance as a starter the following year.
For the front office’s part, they were gambling on the fact that there would be more to come from Brown that they had not yet seen, who had all of two touchdowns and 85 receptions to his name.
There’s a reason that players have not often gotten new contracts after two seasons. With the new collective bargaining agreement and the way that rookie contracts are structured, in fact, I’m not even sure that is possible any longer.
But Brown was one of the few players put in that circumstance—along with Rob Gronkowski, notably—after the Steelers failed to work out a long-term deal with Mike Wallace. And now Brown is chasing the money that Wallace waited an extra year to get on the open market.
There is no arguing that the All-Pro wide receiver has demonstrably outplayed his contract if you compare what he is earning to those of his peers. He reportedly ranks somewhere around 14th in terms of annual compensation at the position, and yet he is arguably the top wide receiver in the game.
But the truth of the matter is that Brown should have understood the hedge game that he was playing at the time, to take the money that he did rather than waiting. And it’s equally important to keep in mind the risk that the front office took in putting that money on such a young and relatively unproven player based on future projection, regardless of how splendidly it has worked out since then.