With trade talk hovering, here’s a closer look at Antonio Brown’s contract

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It’s unclear whether the Steelers want to keep receiver Antonio Brown, and it’s unclear whether he wants to stay. His contract provides clarity as to a variety of issues that will be relevant to the decisions that will be made by the Steelers and/or Browns in the coming weeks.

Here’s a look at specific aspects of Brown’s most recent contract that should be considered by the Steelers, by Brown, and by anyone trying to figure out what will happen next.

1. The structure.

Two years ago, the Steelers signed Brown to a four-year, $68 million extension. Consistent with the team’s refusal to guarantee money beyond the first year, the contract contained only $19 million in fully-guaranteed money, paid out in the form of a signing bonus.

By not including fully-guaranteed payments beyond the first year, the Steelers sacrificed any leverage that would go along with having the ability to void future guarantees. Instead, the Steelers can recover only the unearned portion of Brown’s signing bonus ($11.4 million at this point), for limited circumstances such as retirement.

2. The restructuring.

The Steelers routinely convert large base salaries into guaranteed payments as a cap-management device. Entering the second year of Brown’s contract, the Steelers switched $12.96 million of Brown’s $13.875 million base salary into a guaranteed payment, spreading $3.24 million over each of the remaining four years.

The Steelers can’t get any of that money back, but they’ll have to account for the remaining $9.72 million under the cap, whether he’s on the team or not.

3. The roster bonus.

Brown’s 2019 compensation package consists of a $12.625 million base salary and a roster bonus of $2.5 million. The roster bonus comes due on March 17. As a practical matter, that’s the deadline for making a decision on Brown for the coming season — unless they want to pay him $2.5 million for the privilege of making a decision later.

4. The remaining value.

If the Steelers choose to trade Brown, the contract is attractive. Beyond the $15.125 million he’s due to earn in 2019, Brown has a base salary of $11.3 million in 2020 and $12.5 million in 2021.

That’s a total of $38.925 million for three years, an average of $12.975 million per year. And that’s a good deal for whoever gets Brown — so good that he may want a raise from his next team, if a trade happens.

5. The cap hit.

Due to the $19 million signing bonus paid in 2017 and $12.96 million restructuring bonus paid in 2018, Brown has $21.12 million in paid but not allocated money. Which means that, if Brown is cut or traded before June 1, the Steelers will carry a $21.12 million cap charge for Brown in 2019.

He also can be cut before June 1 with a post-June 1 designation. This would keep his salary on the books until June 1, at which time the cap hit would fall to $7.04 million this year, with the remaining $14.08 million hitting the cap in 2020. The same thing would happen if Brown is traded after June 1; however, the Steelers will have paid him $2.5 million, which would be added to his cap burden for 2019.

6. The net cap gain (in theory).

Some have shrugged at the potential cap consequences for cutting or trading Brown before June 1 because, if he’s on the team, his cap charge will be $22.165 million. In other words, moving him before June 1 actually results in a lower cap charge for 2019. Of course, the Steelers wouldn’t have him on the roster, which means they’d have to replace him within the confines of a total cap reduced by $21.12 million.

Also, the “it will be cheaper under the cap to cut him” argument ignores the reality that the Steelers could have converted a large piece of the $12.625 million base salary to a guaranteed payment, easily carving millions off this year’s cap number, if he’s on the team. In other words, the cap number likely would have ended up being much lower than $22.165 million under normal circumstances.

7. The team’s leverage.

If the Steelers decide to keep Brown but Brown wants out, the Steelers will have a tough decision to make. Keeping him against his wishes could result in Brown holding out or, quite possibly, holding in.

In other words, he could show up for all mandatory activities and do the bare minimum, with the least amount of engagement and enthusiasm possible, avoiding a fine or a suspension for conduct detrimental to the team.

Of course, the Steelers could play hardball, ending years of apathy regarding Brown’s antics by pushing him hard, coaching him aggressively, and punishing him whenever he crosses the line. That could set him off, culminating in a T.O.-style four-game suspension and then, if the behavior continues, another one.

It therefore would be better for the Steelers if Brown just stayed away, but it’s unlikely he’d do it. There’s too much unpaid money to lose and too much unearned money he’d have to pay back if he stopped showing up.

Still, the situation has reached a point at which the team must make a decision as to whether Brown will be a part of it, and it needs to be a decision that takes into account all options and permutations and the consequences, intended and possibly unintended from whatever they do. Brown has decisions to make, too.

Perhaps, in the end, the best move could be for the team to cut the cord, bite the $21.12 million cap bullet, get what they can for Brown, and wash their hands of him for good.

20 responses to “With trade talk hovering, here’s a closer look at Antonio Brown’s contract

  1. I think they should do whatever it takes to get rid of him. Send him to a team like the Jets or Bucs or even the Raiders.

  2. The $21+ million is a deterrent certainly. Did I read recently the Steelers get a credit towards 2019 cap because Bell didn’t show up and they had to budget for him? If this is true, you could get one or two high draft choices and really lose $6 million against the cap instead of the nearly $22 million. Draft picks are a feasible solution with their cost. He wasn’t there when they needed him. I can’t imagine his teammates will look at him the way again.

  3. Seems like Brown holds all the cards here. Hey $21.12M for a divorce seems like an excessive amount of money. Marriage counseling seems like a much cheaper option at this point!

  4. the steelers have 29 million from LeVeon Bell (14.5 m last year and 14.5 m this year), 8 million from Shazier’s expiring contract, and AB was going to count 8 million anyway. So that is 45 million total. they can afford to trade him (and his new team friendly contract) for some higher draft choices before Mar 17 to prepare for the draft.

  5. Shop him and plan to eat some of his guaranteed money to make a deal. He’s a skilled player, but his commitment to “team” is suspect at best. Ship him out and let him be someone else’s problem.

  6. What a strange year for the Steelers. They finally get over the hump with the Patriots and it turns out to be one of their only two wins to end the season. (The other being a 3 point squeaker at homw over an abominable Cincinnati team).

    First their Pro Bowl running back — one of their 3 signature players — Bell, abandons the team. By season’s end, another one of the 3 — Brown — appears to do the same thing. New guys fill the holes admirably in Conner and Smith-Scheister, but it’s not enough to avoid the consequences of that opening day tie with Cleveland.

    In the end, they relinquish the division to a Ravens club they thought they vanquished for good a number of weeks back and a wild card to an Indy team that started 1-5.

  7. Unfortunately, this is the state of this organization right now. To lose. Not one but two disgruntled pro bowl players in one season due to poor discipline and no structure or accountability.

    It all starts with leadership. The Rooney’s MUST see that.

    A Steelers Fan

  8. This is the stuff I come here for (aside from the fabulously entertaining comments sections) – actual football analysis that isn’t available elsewhere. Nice, concise, and serves to dispel a lot of myths and rumors about the situation. *applause*

  9. he should have already been cut. they re-did his contract and he is repaying them
    like this. cut the crybaby and let some one else play his stupid games.

  10. Keep him. Since when does the player like Bell decide, under contract, where they want to play.,they throw a fit, for some reason, and don’t play. NFL has to change in their contracts of guaranteed and non guaranteed contract language.
    A contract should be binding.

  11. If it were up to me all contracts would be incentive based (or at least a good part of them). Perform and you get paid. Underperform and you dont.

  12. Florio, you’re a lawyer and I trust your interpretation is largely correct. There’s a lot of other ones out there. I’ll ride with you.

    Comes to mind a guy I knew who had a stable of high value horses Strolling through his barn one day I asked,. “I guess so and so ( famous stud horse) is not for sale,” He said, “walk up and down that aisle. They’re all for sale. They just each have a different price.”

    I feel that way about AB. With a relatively attractive contract, there will be takers. What’s your offer? I’d take a first and a second round pick today with the Steelers ability to picks WRs. Before he was drafted late in the second round, most Steelers fans might have thought JuJu was a dentist friendly, jaw breaking hard candy.

  13. Never seen a team lose more players because of bad attitudes and bad blood. I guess when you get Tebowed out of the playoffs and Flacco, Manning, Brady, and Bortles kick your butt, morale is bound to suffer. Steelers must learn the hard way that you don’t lie and cheat.

  14. gadgetking2010 says:

    January 4, 2019 at 12:00 am

    the steelers have 29 million from LeVeon Bell (14.5 m last year and 14.5 m this year), 8 million from Shazier’s expiring contract, and AB was going to count 8 million anyway. So that is 45 million total. they can afford to trade him (and his new team friendly contract) for some higher draft choices before Mar 17 to prepare for the draft.
    Not how that works. Just because guys aren’t under contract for 2019 doesn’t mean that the Steelers automatically gain the cap space from 2018. The Steelers have about 28m in cap space as of right now according to overthecap.com. That includes the leftover cap space from 2018 that got rolled into 2019. That doesn’t include the cost to sign the draft picks, practice squad, anybody that goes on injured reserve and guys just to fill out the roster to 53. They have the room to cut/trade Brown before June 1 and again an extra 1.5m or so in cap space. They can cut or trade him after June 1 and split the difference between 2019/2020. If they don’t use the money in 19, roll it into 2020. But I wouldn’t trade him unless I got good value for him. It’s not a garage sale.

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