When the Pittsburgh Steelers signed wide receiver Antonio Brown to a long-term extension following his second season, they had no idea what sort of bargain they would be getting. When Brown signed that five-year $42.5 million extension, he had no idea what sort of bargain he would be giving the Steelers.
That is why the team has worked with Brown over the course of the past two years to alleviate the fact that he has been grossly underpaid throughout the majority of that contract. During the offseason of the 2015 season, the Steelers accelerated $2 million from his 2016 salary to boost his earnings for that season.
Last season, the team accelerated $4 million from his 2017 salary into the 2016 season, which equated to another $2 million raise when you factor in the $2 million already siphoned off the top. But the money wasn’t the most valuable thing that he got from the front office.
It was the assurance that his contract extension would get done as a top priority when his time had come, in the final year of his current contract. And yesterday, they proved to make good on their word, making Brown the highest-paid wide receiver in the league with a four-year extension including $17 per year on average in new money.
A couple of weeks back, Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert talked about the fact that Brown’s contract was the only one that the front office was currently negotiating. “We told Antonio last year his [contract negotiation] would be accelerated”, he said.
There is little room for sympathy when it comes to talking about the financials of professional athletes at the top of their sport, whose annual salaries routinely dwarf the amount of money that the average American might make over the course of his or her entire life.
And so it was that there were no tears shed for Brown over the fact that he signed a deal that he ended up vastly outplaying, which was part of the risk of signing his deal when he did—when he was still at best a marginal player, not even with a concrete spot in the starting lineup.
Since signing that deal, Brown has only gone on to make team history, and NFL history, multiple times, ascending to the top of his position and marking himself as one of the best players in the game regardless of role.
Brown has proven to be a transcendent talent, and has handled his contract situation well—relatively speaking—which is why they have made exceptions for him over the course of the past two years in forwarding future money in preparation for yesterday’s deal.
He has come a long way since being a sixth-round draft pick, to be sure. After hardly playing as a rookie—and yet still scoring on his first touch and authoring arguably the biggest play of the year in the playoffs—he has risen to levels unseen before in Steelers history—and in some cases, in the history of the game.