The Pittsburgh Steelers have always been the organization which never caved to a player who decided to holdout during contract negotiations from training camp. Antonio Brown is in a situation where his current contract has him only making the 18th highest average per year amount among NFL wide receivers. Considering that Antonio Brown has either led the NFL in receiving yards, or had the second most receiving yards for the past three consecutive seasons, it is safe to say he is underpaid.
Brown signed his current contract before he began to put up those huge numbers, and at a time when he was still in a battle for the top of the wide receiver depth chart with then Pittsburgh receivers Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders, both of whom were third round draft picks while Brown was selected in the sixth. At the time it was a great deal for both Pittsburgh and Brown, as the Steelers retained a player that had made big plays for the team during his rookie contract, and Brown knew he had five years of NFL money in a franchise with a great quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger.
Now that Brown has become the NFL's best wide receiver, the deal has gone from being good for both him and the Steelers to great for the organization and a major underpayment for Brown. This makes him want a new deal which pays him closer to the value his reputation would command. While Pittsburgh has restructured his contract three times now, Brown wants a new long-term contract, and is waiting to see what the Steelers do for the player that has changed their offense.
Yesterday, Brown made comments at Steelers' training camp about his contract situation to ESPN's Jeremy Fowler.
"You have to take care of your guys," Brown said after Sunday's practice. "If a guy underperforms, you get rid of him. If a guy overperforms, you take care of him."
One of the offseason story lines for the Pittsburgh Steelers was whether Brown would holdout from training camp for a better contract; a move common for superstar players that are not making the most at their position in the NFL, or simply feel undervalued by their current contracts. Brown made sure that everyone knew he was showing up to camp, and has followed through by being there just as he has been in each season of his career.
What Brown's comment does however is make it clear that he is more than happy to keep working, but also make it known that he is still looking for a major deal soon.
The Steelers have had some of their most legendary players try holdouts in the past, all of which caved to the organization eventually. Terry Bradshaw and Franco Harris, the two biggest offensive players of the 1970's dynasty, and two of the top five Steelers of all-time, tried to holdout against the organization and could not get the Steelers to alter their contracts. Pittsburgh never blinks or budges from their position and does not make new deals in the middle of veteran contracts just because they are playing better.
Even more recently, Super Bowl XL MVP Hines Ward attempted a holdout in 2008 during training camp, an effort that did not get him a new deal until well after he ended his holdout. Mike Wallace is the most recent player on the team that tried the move for more money, an effort which did not only fail as he reported to camp in 2012 without a new deal, but he also did not get re-signed by the team at any point.
Antonio Brown has definitely read the writing on the wall when it comes to contract disputes with the organization and knows that the gesture of a holdout is a futile effort that will just stir up more bad press for the franchise and ultimately not get him his big payday.
This is why him showing up at training camp was the best thing he could do for both himself and the organization. But his public comments make his stance known to the organization that he is not backing down from his quest for the big money contract his reputation should command.
His comment was broad, general and did not state any specifics to what he wants in his contract and he also talked up the organization in the same interview.
"I got a good reputation toward [the Rooneys] who have been taking care of me," Brown said according to Jacob Klinger from Pennlive.com. "I'm a first-class guy in a relationship and the first way to getting better is showing up. So I'm going to show up and do my part and be ready to go."
Sprinkling in some positive comments while showing up for training camp to perform his duties as a leader on the team shows that Brown is a team player that the franchise can depend on; a move which should increase his value even more in the eyes of general manager Kevin Colbert and the Rooney family.
Sure, Brown could stay quiet about his contract negotiations and let his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, do the talking behind closed doors with the organization. But it is unclear that Rosenhaus has actually met with the organization yet in regard to this current negotiation. Therefore, it is important to still play a strong game until the day comes when Pittsburgh announces a new deal.
Making these comments makes it known to the organization, and the world, that he is still in search for a major upgrade in his pay, but it also shows he is ready to play ball on both the gridiron and in the conference room. How this stare down continues between both sides of these negotiations will be interesting to watch, and how much Brown can get in a new contract from Pittsburgh could make for Brown's course of action a road map for future stars that seek new contracts before their time is up with the organization.