Recently the Steelers and star wide receiver Antonio Brown reached an agreement that saw the team give a $4 million raise to Brown’s contract in 2016 that brings his salary up to ten million dollars for the year.
The purpose of this was basically a show of good faith by the Steelers to their star player. The Steelers have a well-known policy of not negotiating new contracts with players that have more than one year remaining on their deal. On the other hand, Antonio Brown is very underpaid for the production he has achieved over the last three years, and deserved a raise big time.
Ten million dollars is a lot of money to make in a year, but when you compare Antonio Brown to the other receivers that will make between $10 million and $11 million dollars in 2016 it’s clear that the Steelers are making out like bandits this year. The flip side is how Antonio Brown is going to cash-in when he renegotiates a new contract in 2017.
There are three receivers besides Brown that are going to be paid 10-11 million dollars in 2016. They are: Randall Cobb, Allan Hurns, and Tavon Austin. Below is a side by side comparison between what those three players combined average in a season and Antonio Brown’s average season since they all became regular starters (for the purposes of this article "regular starter" is the first season in which the player started at least 8 games).
Targets- 90 162
Receptions - 57 110
Yards - 696 1554
TDS - 6 9
Newer stats such as DVOA and DYAR help paint the picture of how much Brown stands out as well.
Here are the DYAR and DVOA rankings for these four players over the last two years:
2014 DYAR DOVA 2015 DYAR DVOA
Brown 1st 10th 1st 9th
Cobb 4th 1st 53rd 60th
Hurns 75th 74th 16th 12th
Austin NA NA 87 86
Every player’s rankings fluctuate, except for Brown’s which remain consistent. Austin didn’t catch enough passes in 2014 to rank. It’s only fair to point out that Hurns and Austin are two young players still learning the position and are paired with young quarterbacks who are still developing. It’s also worth mentioning that two years ago Cobb was playing with the NFL MVP at quarterback and fellow wide receiver Jordy Nelson, who ranked second in DYAR and eighth in DVOA. In 2015, Aaron Rodgers was dealing with nagging injuries and Nelson missed the whole year. It’s safe to assume that in 2014 the presence of a dominant receiver forced defenses to adjust for that player and allow Cobb more favorable match-ups. Then in 2015 defenses were able to focus their attention on Cobb while Rodgers had a down year, thus explaining his drop off.
Even with those caveats Brown still compares favorably. Markus Wheaton, Martavis Bryant, and Heath Miller are all talented football players but none rank in the top 30 in DYAR or DVOA the last two years, meaning Brown often faces extra defensive attention. Ben Roethlisberger is no doubt a future Hall of Fame player, but he missed all or part of six games in 2015 and yet Brown still ranked as a top player in both categories.
Both traditional and advanced stats show a staggering discrepancy between what Brown is paid to produce and what he is actually producing. Most fans can tell that Antonio Brown is one of the best receivers in the NFL. Most fans with a knowledge of the Steelers can tell Brown is far outperforming his contract, but to actually see by how much Brown out paces his peers, contract wise, is amazing.
The players Brown is most often compared to are Julio Jones and A.J. Green. Green will be the highest paid receiver in 2016 with a $15 million contract. Brown also tops Green and Jones in both traditional and advanced stats in most categories, so expect a big paycheck coming for Brown in 2017.
There can be a happy ending for all parties involved here. The Steelers can renegotiate Brown’s contract next year with only one year left on his contract and keep him in Pittsburgh for the rest of his career if they choose, Brown is clearly happy with Pittsburgh and the fans since he’s constantly interacting with people on Snapchat and Twitter. Brown can get himself paid like the star he is, don’t be surprised if "Antonio Brown becomes highest paid receiver in the NFL" is a headline you see in 2017. Finally, Steelers fans can have the pleasure of watching the best receiver in the game at his peak on their favorite team for years to come.