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Salary cap implications for the Steelers if they move forward without Antonio Brown

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Breaking down the numbers if the Steelers decide to part ways with Antonio Brown.

Cleveland Browns v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

HAPPY NEW YEAR! Unfortunately, the Pittsburgh Steelers could not make it one day into 2019 without dragging the drama which plagued the team in 2018. A supposed dust-up between wideout Antonio Brown and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger led Brown to throw a football toward Big Ben and made a comment about being traded. BTSC fans will no doubt chat about the validity or the actions of Brown, that led him to not being active for the Cincinnati Bengals game, but that is not the point of this article. The salary cap ramifications from moving on from Brown via a trade or his release is the discussion here.

Let’s delve into AB’s contract and get to the ramifications of moving on from him.

Over the Cap wrote the following regarding Brown’s 2017 contract and subsequent 2018 restructure.

WR Antonio Brown signed a $68 million contract extension with the Pittsburgh Steelers on February 27, 2017. All contract details come via a report from Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio who was broke the full contract. Brown will receive a $19 million signing bonus which is the guaranteed portion of the contract. In 2018 Brown will earn a $6 million roster bonus if he is on the roster on the fifth day of the league year. In 2019 there is a $2.5 million roster bonus due on the 5th day of the league year. Brown’s cap charge should remain unchanged in 2017.

Per multiple outlets the Steelers restructured Brown’s contract on March 7, 2018, by converting his $6 million roster bonus and all but $915,000 of his base salary to a signing bonus. The move should create $9.72 million in cap space for the Steelers while increasing his cap charge by $3.24 million each of the final four years of his contract.

The restructure has huge implications for the Steelers to move on from Brown. Any prorated guaranteed money that has been paid out will count against the cap. Below is the years left on Brown’s contract.

2019

$12,625,000 base salary

$7,040,000 prorated signing bonus

$2,500,000 roster bonus

$22,165,000 cap number

2020

$11,300,000 base salary

$7,040,000 prorated signing bonus

$18,340,000 cap number

2021

$$12,500,000 base salary

$7,040,000 prorated signing bonus

$19,540,000 cap number

The four scenarios the Steelers have for life after Brown.

Trade

The entire $21.12 million prorated signing bonus would immediately come due at the time of the trade in 2019. Pittsburgh would save just over $1 million on Brown’s cap number but would leave behind. The trade would need to be executed before the fifth day of the new league year to avoid the $2.5 million roster bonus. If they executed the trade after the fifth day of the league year the Steelers then would be underwater on cap savings.

Release

The cap implications are the same as if Pittsburgh traded Brown. or If he would be released, the release would happen after the new league year started and before the fifth day because of the roster bonus. Brown could not be released between now and the new league year because of his prorated bonus acceleration would push the team over the cap in 2018.

Release with the June 1 designation

If Pittsburgh could find no suitors this route would be the most palatable. The organization would still have to absorb the $21.12 million prorated signing bonus but the team could spread it out over two seasons. This does not happen evenly. The 2019 roster bonus would count against the cap but the remaining $14.08 would not be counted until 2020. The team could make the move before the roster bonus is due. The catch here is that the cap relief would not be given to the team until after June 1, 2019. Brown’s cap number for 2019 is $22,165,000 and Pittsburgh would only be on the hook for $7.04 million which means the Steelers would have an additional $15.125 million in cap space as long as the move was done before the roster bonus kicked in.

Post June 1 trade

This scenario would work exactly like a June 1 release.

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Doubtful many Steelers faithful really want to see their seven-time Pro Bowler leave the team via trade or release. Fans just want 2019 to be drama free, and for the team’s star player to act in a responsible manner. The stakes are high and the implications that a protracted wounded relationship could hinder the team chemistry are foremost in a fan’s thoughts. No doubt fans would prefer Brown to fulfill his contractual obligations then the team sitting on a pile of dead cap space and without the team’s number one wideout.

Here is a tweet by OTC on how the Steelers have fulfilled their contracts the past three years and the dead money associated. (Bills lead the league with over $117 million in that span.)