The best players should make the most money.
The Steelers have three of the best players in the entire NFL.
They’re all about to make a ton of money in 2017.
There was a time, just four weeks ago, when Antonio Brown was reportedly on the outs with the Steelers organization, when teammates and the front office were allegedly fed up with his antics, upset that he was a me-first player who was more concerned about his stats than the team winning. One of the best receivers in the game was, as recently as early February, the subject of trade rumors.
All that can be put to bed now, as Brown signed a four-year extension on Monday worth $68 million that runs through 2021, per a report on NFL.com. Brown had one year left on his deal that was set to pay him less than $5 million in 2017. Instead, Brown will make about $17 million per year.
Prior to the deal, Brown was the 18th-highest paid receiver in the NFL, according to OvertheCap.com. His new deal will pay him about $2 million per season more than the next highest-paid receiver — Cincinnati’s A.J. Green — who takes home $15 million per year. Brown will become the highest paid non-quarterback on the offensive side of the ball in the NFL, while also making more money per year than every Steeler not named Ben Roethlisberger. And it’s hard to argue he’s not worth every penny.
Brown has 481 receptions over the last four seasons, the most in a four year span of anyone, ever. In his career, Brown has 632 receptions for 8,377 yards and 50 receiving touchdowns — 35 in the last three years — with another five touchdowns via punt or kick returns. He is, without question, one of the most valuable players in the NFL, and now he’ll be paid like it.
The question left late Monday is whether his teammate, Le’Veon Bell, will join him as one of the highest paid players in the league. For one year, at least, he could be.
Bell was given an exclusive franchise tag Monday, meaning he cannot negotiate with other teams, but also meaning the Steelers will have to pay him $12.377 million next season, if they’re unable to come to terms on a multi-year deal. From Steelers.com:
Both Steelers President Art Rooney II and General Manager Kevin Colbert have expressed an interest in doing a long-term deal with Bell, and this gives the two sides time to work out a deal. The deadline for the sides to come to a long-term contract is July 15. If a long-term contract is not worked out by that deadline, Bell would have to play the 2017 season at the amount determined by the franchise player designation.
If Brown is one of the most valuable players in the NFL, Bell is one of the few players more valuable than him.
Bell changed the Steelers’ fortunes this season — we wrote about that a lot during the year — taking the franchise from a middling fringe playoff team to a bonafide Super Bowl contender.
Bell has played just 47 regular season games in his four years — injuries and suspensions have kept him off the field for a possible 17 games he missed — but he’s racked up more than 4,000 rushing yards and 2,000 receiving yards in his career, reaching the 6,000-yard mark in the second fewest games in NFL history.
While the Steelers were wise to lock up Brown, they should be cautious with giving Bell a long-term extension. The highest paid back in the league is Adrian Peterson, who may be on his way out of Minnesota. LeSean McCoy is the second-highest paid back, and rumor has it, he may be cut from Buffalo. Jonathan Stewart has the third-largest deal for running backs, and he’s never had the kind of production to warrant that price tag. Doug Martin’s career in Tampa has been railroaded by injuries, and Jamaal Charles has ostensibly lost the second half of his career with injuries of his own.
Bell is better than all of those backs — yes, even Peterson, and even rookie sensation Ezekiel Elliott, who is on a $25 million deal with the Cowboys — but the Steelers need to decide if he’s worth paying long-term money to, or if the team will be willing to roll the dice on a one-year franchise deal worth an enormous $12 million, then deal with either losing him or doing this dance again.
Either way, the Steelers’ Killer Bs are going to be making a lot of Gs next season.
Brown’s 2017 base salary will be low, as the bulk of his money will be rolled into a restructuring bonus of close to $9 million with a cap hit of $13.6 million. If the team doesn’t get a deal done for Bell, he’ll cost just over $12 million against the cap himself. Roethisberger is slated to make $18.2 million this season, in salary and prorated signing bonuses, with a $23.2 million cap hit each of the following two seasons.
The 2017 salary cap is projected to be $168 million — that’s high — but that would mean the Steelers will have as much as $43.8 million set aside for just three offensive players. Roethlisberger has already floated the idea of potentially retiring (something that surely won’t happen now), which makes it somewhat unlikely he would be willing to restructure his deal to extend the number of years. Because of that, the Steelers kind of have to figure out a sensible deal for Bell between now and July.
There is some room for the Steelers to sign other players, whether they keep the franchise tag on Bell or not. Per Spotrac.com, the Steelers have $24 million under the projected cap, the 23rd ranked team in the NFL.
New England won another Super Bowl, yes, but Tom Brady only has so many years left, and with a healthy Killer Bs, the Steelers should be one of the favorites to win again in 2017. The team was smart to make the moves they did Monday, but they need to stay smart with the rest of the roster to make sure the other 50 guys are good enough to help these three shine.