Entering the 2017 NFL season, the Pittsburgh Steelers were legitimate Super Bowl contenders and had perhaps the best set of offensive skill position triplets in the league in quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, a future Hall of Famer with two Super Bowl rings, running back Le’Veon Bell and receiver Antonio Brown, both arguably the best in the league in their positions.
By the time the 2019 season kicks off in early September, the Steelers could have just Big Ben left, and the Super Bowl window might have closed in the Steel City.
This writer would argue that Pittsburgh’s window closed Week 15 of the 2017 season. The Steelers appeared to have beaten the hated New England Patriots at Heinz Field on a last-second Jesse James touchdown catch. However, that was overturned on replay, and Big Ben then threw a horrible end-zone interception that allowed the Pats to escape 27-24. It also essentially gave New England home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Steelers would end up losing in the Divisional Round at home to Jacksonville – a team they wouldn’t have played had they beaten the Pats and had the AFC’s top seed.
Of course, we all know about Bell as he held out the entire 2018 season because he was upset about being slapped with the franchise tag. No freaking chance he’s back next season as the team has moved on with James Conner. BetOnline offers a prop on Bell’s next team and the Jets, who have tons of cap space and a huge need at tailback, are +300 favorites.
We’re here to talk about Brown, though, who finished with 1,297 yards and 15 touchdowns this season in 15 games. It was his sixth straight season of at least 100 catches (only player in league history), 1,250 yards and eight TDs – one of the greatest six-year runs in history. He’s either the league’s best receiver or second-best to Julio Jones.
By now, everyone knows all the drama surrounding Brown as he’s acting like a spoiled little brat and missed the regular-season finale because he was pissed off at the team. Many in that locker room say Brown quit on the team, and Brown reportedly wants out – although as of this writing hasn’t officially requested a trade. Only a diva receiver would pout because another receiver (JuJu Smith-Schuster) was named the team’s MVP.
Not going to go into all of Brown’s theatrics. If he was a low-paid, No. 3 guy then he’d have been released already. It’s not like Brown is underpaid, either, as he is in the middle of a four-year, $68 million deal that included a $19 million signing bonus and $19 million guaranteed.
BetOnline asks where Brown will be playing next year, and the options are just two: Steelers (-250) or somewhere else (+150). It would be silly to list the teams where Brown “might’ be playing because the other 31 in the NFL would want him. Brown would make a ton of sense on the San Francisco 49ers, for example.
The reason that Brown is favored to be a Steeler is purely financial. He has a salary-cap hit of $22.165 million for 2019, and no team can eat that much money – well, no team that plans to contend. Whether the Steelers trade or release Brown, he would account for $21.12 million in dead money against the cap in 2019.
It should be noted that trades can’t be consummated until March 13, which is the start of the new NFL year. If Pittsburgh were to trade him, it would likely have to be before March 17 (so just a few days later) because that’s when he’s due a $2.5 million roster bonus. Any team acquiring Brown before March 17 would have $15.125 million count against its salary cap, which is Brown’s $12.625 million base salary and that roster bonus of $2.5 million. After the $15.125 million he’s due to earn this year, Brown has a base salary of $11.3 million in 2020 and $12.5 million in 2021.
If the Steelers trade or release Brown after June 1, his cap hit would fall to $7.04 million this year, with the remaining $14.08 million on the 2020 cap. Obviously, if the Steelers wait until after March 17 to make a decision, they could be paying Brown that $2.5 million bonus essentially for nothing.
Talent trumps all, and we think the Steelers and Brown work things out – for now. Center Maurkice Pouncey, the leader in the locker room recently wrote: “When the storm clears and the sun shines we still FAMILY!” on Instagram, with a picture of himself and Brown. This isn’t like the Bell situation at all. Plus, the Steelers don’t have a history of caving to players.