The Steelers have dealt with plenty of distractions this year, several of which trace to star receiver Antonio Brown. And the latest of which could be the last straw.
The stunning report from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that Brown basically skipped out on practice, prompting the team to fabricate an injury report as cover for his absence, and then showing up Sunday with the goal of playing before being shut down suggests that the two sides have passed the point of no return. If that’s the case, what can the Steelers do?
Based on his contract, not much — without taking a massive cap hit. Thanks to a $19 million signing bonus paid in 2017 and a $12.96 million restructure bonus paid in 2018, the Steelers would carry $21.12 million in dead money if they cut or trade Brown. (They could release him in March with a post-June 1 designation, resulting in $7.04 million counting against 2019 and $14.08 million counting against 2020.)
Whenever a decision is made, something needs to happen by the fifth day of the league year, which begins in March. That’s when Brown earns another $2.5 million roster bonus. Presumably, the Steelers would want to cut or trade him before then.
If they even want to cut or trade him. But with JuJu Smith-Schuster, the team’s 2018 MVP, emerging as a great player and the Steelers surely weary of a never-ending circus with Brown that traces at least back to his ill-advised locker-room Facebook Live routine after a playoff win over the Chiefs, it could be time for the two sides to separate.
Unfortunately for the Steelers, it may be impractical from a cap standpoint.