The Pittsburgh Steelers got behind themselves two major hurdles in their offseason strategy yesterday, placing the exclusive franchise tag on four-year veteran running back Le’Veon Bell and completing a four-year extension for perennial All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown that will pay him $17 million annually in new money and ties him to the organization through the 2021 season.
The Steelers no doubt quickly realized that they were not going to be able to complete a long-term deal with Bell prior to the deadline to place the franchise tag on players, which is what caused them to take that action now, knowing that it would give them plenty of time to complete a deal later in the offseason.
As for Brown, the Steelers had already made an informal commitment to him that they would get a new deal done with him in the final year of his contract, something that he has waited for patiently—in relative terms—over the course of the past two seasons after he vastly outplayed his then-current deal.
Locking up Brown and tagging Bell secures the team’s primary objectives for the offseason, and their primary focus, which was to keep their offensive triplets intact—even in light of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s retirement talk, though nobody with any inside knowledge is worried that he will actually retire this offseason.
So with that out of the way, and on the final day of February, the Steelers have to themselves a sufficient amount of time to take stock of where they sit heading into free agency and to consider what they hope to accomplish before then, as well as during the free agency period.
General manager Kevin Colbert said that Brown’s contract was at the time the only one that they were working on, despite having very serious interest in keeping some of their impending free agents. Now that his contract is taken care of, the Steelers can turn their focus to a couple of those players and see if they can get something done before they hit the open market in another week and a half or so.
It was reported at one point that the team was in negotiations with 10-year veteran inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons, a notion that was refuted by Colbert’s claim that Brown’s contract was their singular focus. With that out of the way, however, perhaps now the dialogue has begun on the former first-round pick’s situation.
The team will also, of course, have to take inventory not only of their roster for area of need but also of their feasible salary cap in preparation for exploring potential free agents that they may wish to entertain over the course of the next month or so.
Having been able to complete their main objective in February provides the front office a good deal of breathing room, as well as clarity, as they move on to the next phase of the offseason, reassured in the notion that the biggest domino has already fallen.