Rules were made to be broken. A sixth-round draft pick, for example, isn't supposed to forge as career as a reliable NFL starter, let alone become a transcendent All-Pro talent. New England Patriots QB Tom Brady did it, and he has four Super Bowls and nearly $170 million in career earnings to show for it.
Similarly, the Pittsburgh Steelers have WR Antonio Brown, a former sixth-round pick from the unheralded MAC conference who will be seeking his fourth consecutive All-Pro nod in 2016. Unlike Brady, however, Brown has not been compensated justly for his efforts.
Brown is scheduled to make $6.25 million in 2016 according to OvertheCap.com, which makes him the 26th highest paid receiver in the NFL. Over the last three seasons, Brown ranks first among all receivers in receptions and yards. Brown also has 31 touchdown catches, as well as three punt returns for touchdowns. Most importantly, Brown has maintained a squeaky-clean image off the field, and even his most controversial on-field antics seem to offend only the most stoic, humdrum sports fans and probably Jim Nance. Brown is also participating in training camp, which speaks volumes to his character.
Think about it; how happy would you be if Pierre from the Washington office made more money than you despite the fact that he produces exceedingly subpar work?
Brown is "confident" that the Steelers will offer him a new contract (or at least re-work his existing contract) before Pittsburgh's Sept. 12 game against Pierre and his Washington co-workers.
He's earned it.
The contract negotiations between Brown's camp (which includes notorious mega-agent, Drew Rosenhaus) and Pittsburgh's front office should go like this:
FO: "Okay, Antonio, we have an offer that we think will be agreeable."
*coyly slips Brown a blank check*
FO: "Please write whatever number you want on this check and it will be promptly deposited into an account of your choosing."
At present, the highest-paid receiver in the NFL in terms of average annual salary is Cincinnati's A.J. Green, who makes a cool $15 million per year. However, only $26 million of Green's $60 million contract is guaranteed. Atlanta Falcons WR Julio Jones, who is every bit Brown's equal in terms of talent and production, makes $14.2 million per year, but leads all receivers with $35.5 million in guaranteed money. Therefore, if you don't believe that Antonio Brown deserves at least $14 million per season, you are out of your mind.
Brown has distinguished himself as a top-tier offensive powerhouse. Certainly, Brown is an incredible receiver (he is currently on a Jerry Rice-like statistical pace, after all), but his value come from the fact that he impacts the game on a multitude of levels.
Pundits love to point to Brown's now-infamous "cold period" that occurred in Weeks 4 through 7 of the 2015 season. In these games, as the naysayers point out, Brown's statistical output plummeted after starting QB Ben Roethlisberger missed some action due to a knee injury. In this stretch however, Le'Veon Bell and the Steelers rushing attack averaged roughly 115 ground yards per game on 5.5 yards per carry. Bell is definitely a talented running back, and Pittsburgh certainly boasts and excellent offensive line, but this rushing success indicates that opposing defensive coordinators, even after observing Mike Vick and Landry Jones under center, STILL decided to completely blanket Brown. Although Brown's stats did suffer in that stretch (a 124-yard effort against the Chiefs that people seem to conveniently forget notwithstanding), the Steelers went 2-2 in that stretch of games; they would have been 3-1 had Josh Scobee decided to be a decent football player.
Numerous other games, including Martavis Bryant's two-touchdown effort against Arizona and Markus Wheaton's 200-yard game against Seattle, further underscore Brown's value. At this point, what does Brown have left to prove to the Steelers? Or to anyone, for that matter.
If Brown became an unrestricted free agent tomorrow (like he could become after the 2017 season, barring an extension), every team in the league would be waiting in line to pay him $15 million per year, with the exception of the Dolphins and the Redskins, who would both offer Brown $40 million per year, naming rights to their next three stadiums and free Chipotle for six months. Sure, the Steelers have the luxury to keep Brown under team control through the 2016 season (and through 2017, should they chose), but should they? To pay Brown his current salary is a disservice to Brown and his family.
I know my audience, and I know that many of you would slander your own grandmothers for $6.25 million per year. Without question, $6.25 million is not chump change. But, this is an issue of principle and justice. If you work hard, you should be paid what you deserve to be paid. Simply put, Brown deserves more money.
Rules were made to be broken, and Antonio Brown may force the Pittsburgh Steelers to break one of their longstanding rules. Specifically, the team stubbornly refuses to negotiate contract extensions with non-quarterbacks who have more than one-year remaining on their current contracts. Offering Brown a new deal is not the slippery slope that some people make it out to be. If a player posts back-to-back seasons in which he finishes in the top-10 all-time in his position's most important statistical category, you can go ahead and pay him. If Bud Dupree sacks the quarterback 40 times over the next two seasons, who among you will argue that he's worth less than top-tier pass rusher money? Many Steelers fans are perfectly fine with handing G David DeCastro a well-deserved contract extension that will likely make him one of five highest-paid guards in league history, but completely shudder at the thought of giving Brown an extension because the All-Pro receiver is still "under contract."
NFL contracts, like rules, were designed specifically to be broken. Teams front-load contracts with massive signing bonuses precisely so they can cut aging players in the third year of a five-year deal without too many negative financial consequences. Players are very aware of this, which is exactly why it took Von Miller five months and countless threats to re-sign with Denver. Josh Norman WALKED AWAY from a Super Bowl-caliber roster to join an 8-8 Washington squad because the latter team front-loaded his deal with guaranteed money. If the contract itself is mostly irrelevant to the teams, then why should the players bend over backwards to adhere to the language?
In closing, I told someone four years ago that former Lions WR Calvin Johnson was the best receiver that we would see in our lifetimes. Having only experienced two-ish decades of life on this lush, green earth, I didn't think that this statement was too farfetched. I see now the error of my premature thinking, and I can say with confidence that Antonio Brown is the best wide receiver that I have ever seen.
Now it's time to pay him like it.