There was a lot of Pittsburgh Steelers-related news coming over the wire yesterday, from players coming in for workouts to claiming people off waivers, while a certain very large linebacker was acquitted of very obviously baseless allegations pursued in a highly ill-advised manner by the league.
But the most significant news of the day, and perhaps the most inevitable, especially in hindsight, was the news of the front office restructuring seventh-year wide receiver Antonio Brown’s contract for the second year in a row—in this instance moving future base-salary money forward.
This was anticipated, I say, because it would have otherwise been kind of ridiculous, when you think about it. Recall back to last season. The Steelers appeased Brown temporarily by moving $2 million of his 2016 base salary forward to the 2015 season, and then turning most of that new base salary into a signing bonus.
But that left Brown with $2 million less to earn in 2016 than he would have otherwise, so his 2015 ‘pay raise’ was not one at all. Or it wouldn’t have been, if the front office didn’t basically do the same thing again yesterday.
Yes, it is the same thing, even though they this time accelerated $4 million instead of $2 million. That is, of course, because they had to replace the $2 million that they already borrowed last year from his 2016 base salary just to get it back up to the level that it already was from his original contract. Then he got a pay raise of $2 million on top of that—which was again largely turned into a signing bonus.
The reason that they are able to do this for these past two years is because neither side has any expectation of Brown playing the final year of his contract. That year is simply not going to exist. It’s going to get torn up and replaced by a new extension that he will sign in 2017 that will make him, perhaps, the highest-paid wide receiver in the game, which is what he is entitled to.
I did campaign earlier in this offseason for the Steelers breaking with tradition and actually getting that extension done now, but I do understand their trepidation in establishing a new precedent, and acknowledged that this indeed would be the anticipated move. It would have been very surprising if he played this season making less than he was supposed to when his contract was originally signed in 2012, after all, considering all he has accomplished since then.
Of course, even having done what they chose to do is in itself establishing a new precedent—but this is one that is much easier to manage. And Brown is such a rare talent that it’s not likely that they will be signing any two-year veteran to six-year contracts any time soon. With the way rookie contracts are now, scenarios in which that is even an option are now rare.