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Explaining Where Antonio Brown’s Freed Up 2020 Cap Charges Went

I still get quite a few questions during a month concerning the Pittsburgh Steelers and them trading away wide receiver Antonio Brown back in March. Obviously, most of the questions I get on this topic are related to how the trade of Brown impacted the Steelers salary cap situation not only in 2019, but in 2020 as well.

On Thursday, I took a look ahead at the Steelers 2020 salary cap situation and since then I’ve once again been flooded with questions concerning Brown’s dead money. The questions mostly revolve people thinking the Steelers would have more cap space to work with in 2020 due to Brown’s contract being completely off the books. Those people wonder where that Brown cap savings in 2020 went to. In this post, I will attempt to explain what all transpired with Brown’s contract once he was traded and where that seemingly extra cap space went.

Let’s start this post with a look at Brown’s contract right before he was traded to the Oakland Raiders:

YEAR BASE SALARY PRORATED BONUS ROSTER BONUS CAP CHARGE
2019 $12,625,000 $7,040,000 $2,500,000 $22,165,000
2020 $11,300,000 $7,040,000 $0 $18,340,000
2021 $12,500,000 $7,040,000 $0 $19,540,000

Brown was scheduled to earn a base salary of $12.625 million in 2019 in addition to a $2.5 million roster bonus that was due on March 17, the fifth day of 2019 league year. His cap charge for 2019 was scheduled to be a much higher $22.165 million due to past bonus prorations. The Steelers traded Brown to the Raiders ahead of his roster bonus due date so they were not on the hook for that or any of his $12.625 million base salary. However, with Brown being traded before June 1, all of his outlying prorated bonus charges against the cap came due in 2019 as dead salary cap money. That dead money charge against the Steelers 2019 salary cap was $7.04 million times three, or $21.12 million. In short, the Steelers essentially cleared $1.045 million in 2019 salary cap space prior to Brown’s Rule of 51 displacement.

Once Brown was traded to the Raiders, the 2020 and 2021 base salaries went with him. At that point, Brown had no impact on future cap years for the Steelers. So, most of the questions I get now are related to Brown previously being scheduled to count $18.34 million against the cap in 2020 and why the Steelers don’t have that extra amount now at their disposal. Just because that $18.34 million charge of Brown’s in 2020 is off the books, doesn’t mean that the Steelers couldn’t start spending some of that freed up cap money right away.

Just a few days before the Steelers traded Brown away they signed center Maurkice Pouncey to a two year-contract extension. That contract extension came with Pouncey being scheduled to count $11 million against the 2020 salary cap. Not long after Pouncey was extended, the Steelers re-signed outside linebacker Anthony Chickillo and punter Jordan Berry to new contracts. Chickillo’s new deal came with a 2020 cap charge of $6.0975 million while Berry’s 2020 cap charge is $2.175 million.

Once free agency got underway, the Steelers didn’t waste much time in signing cornerback Steven Nelson, wide receiver Donte Moncrief and inside linebacker Mark Barron. Their respective salary cap charges for 2020 for those three players are currently $10.75 million, $5.75 million and $8.125 million. Shoot, Nelson and Barron’s 2020 cap chargers total up to be right about what Brown’s was scheduled to be before he was traded.

Don’t forget that somewhere mixed in those dates that defensive tackle Daniel McCullers was re-signed and his cap charge for 2020 is currently $1.625 million. Oh, and guard Ramon Foster was re-signed just prior to Brown being traded away and his 2020 cap charge is $5.575 million.

The Steelers went on to sign quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to an extension in April and that deal resulted in his 2020 salary cap charge being a whopping $33.5 million. Steelers cornerback Joe Haden was also signed to an extension right before the start of the 2019 regular season and his 2020 cap charge is $12.6 million as a result of that deal.

Even since the Steelers 2019 season started they traded for safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and the contract that came with him includes a 2020 cap charge of $1,975,252.

Are several of you staring to get the picture now?

Just because Brown was traded and his future years came off the books doesn’t mean that the team didn’t instantly start accounting for those future charges being gone. The salary cap is a constantly evolving thing and requires planning out multiple years. Sure, the Steelers didn’t plan on what happened with Brown happening, but once it did happen, they went to work allocating those cap dollars elsewhere.

In real-time, Brown’s 2020 came off the books the moment he was traded. However, the Steelers started eating away at that freed up cap space and more not long after he was out of Pittsburgh.

Hopefully this clearly explains where Brown’s free up cap charges went when he was traded and why the Steelers dont have just an extra $18.34 million in extra cap space just lying around to use.

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