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How any rework of Antonio Brown's contract becomes problematic for the Steelers

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Antonio Brown is going to put Kevin Colbert, the Pittsburgh Steelers GM, into a serious bind with his contract dealings.

Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

Antonio Brown might be angling for a contract extension, so what is stopping him from that big payday? Pittsburgh has a policy of not tearing up contracts with over one year left on them. This is the first stumbling block, the NFL salary cap is the other.

It's tough to negotiate with the Rooneys, but there isn't any negotiating with the salary cap. Pittsburgh is up against the cap with under $3 million, remaining. Two more roster spots and Pittsburgh's taxi squad is not figured into the top 51. The Steelers want to carry $3 million of unused cap space into the season in case of injuries. As an extension is unlikely before the season -- what choice is available?

AB's current contract is five years and $41.7 million. Converting salary into a signing bonus has occurred in the past three years for Brown. The media is fond of pointing out that Brown is making $6.25 million in 2016. What is not pointed out, though, is that AB took $2 million from his 2016 base salary as a signing bonus in 2015. Salary converted into a signing bonus is a way to free up cap space for a given season. These reworks have provided cap relief, but they have created a growing tax bill. The bill's due date is approaching. As the length of the contract gets shorter, the cap hit soars.

Let's take a look at a hypothetical rework for AB. Take $4 million of his $8.7 million 2017 base salary and convert it into a signing bonus. Brown's base salary still is low compared to his production. The compensation for 2016 puts him among the top 10 highest paid WRs. This change means that $2 million is added to this year's salary cap and another $2 million to 2017. Shifting a small sum this season is easy. The move makes Antonio happy, in turn making the Steelers happy.

But this move has ominous ramifications in 2017. The above scenario takes $2 million off AB's total 2017 cap number. The issue though is that it pushes the prorated bonus to just over $6.4 million. During the final year of the contract that money can't be kicked down the road any further. With a new contract signed, it will take GM Kevin Colbert's magic to get it done.

It's hard to imagine that Antonio will not receive the largest contract of any NFL wide receiver. Julio Jones has the largest total value contract -- five years and $71.25 million. Part of Jones deal includes a $12 million signing bonus.  AB's deal should eclipse that, as well as the $15 million-per-year average of A. J. Green. Say maybe a hypothetical five-year contract worth $80 million with a $15 million signing bonus. The bonus will push the 2017 salary cap number to over $9.4 million, base salary not included. Below you will see the precarious position this would put the Steelers' GM in.

YEAR SALARY BONUS CARRYOVER CAP #
2017 $9 $3 $6.4 $18.4
2018 $14 $3
$17
2019 $14 $3
$17
2020 $14 $3
$17
2021 $14 $3
$17

* In millions

The Steelers have over $51 million in cap space for 2017 but contracts such as this one, eat into it fast. There are 17 unrestricted free agents and four restricted free agents in 2017. Colbert has work ahead of him to keep Brown happy while also keeping the six-time Super Bowl champions competitive.