Antonio Brown's Buddha-like patience has finally paid off.
In a move that surprised nobody, the Pittsburgh Steelers have prorated $4 million of Brown's 2017 salary into a signing bonus for 2016, bumping the All-Pro's 2016 salary from $6.25 million to $10.25 million. Fortunately for Brown, every dime of this "new" contract is fully guaranteed, which actually makes him the fourth-highest paid receiver in the NFL in terms of guaranteed money.
This is not an unprecedented move for the Steelers, as general manager Kevin Colbert and his collaborators advanced $2 million of Brown's 2016 salary into a signing bonus last season. For those of you who don't have a calculator handy, this means that Brown's 2017 salary will be just a shade over $4 million.
In other words, Brown is precisely one year away from striking a gold mine.
Despite the fact that the Steelers will have to make some heartbreaking roster moves and/or rob Scrooge McDuck's vault in order to accommodate Brown's inevitable monster contract in 2017, this restructure is beneficial for both sides.
For one, the Steelers, who have stubbornly adhered to their tried-and-true (and outdated) strategy of refusing to negotiate with players who have more than one year remaining on their current deals, have finally proven that their hearts really are capable of growing three sizes in a single day. Brown, by all measures, has been grossly underpaid (and arguably still is) prior to signing this restructured deal, so the fact that the Steelers justly compensated his efforts is a good look for the team.
Of course, it also gives Pittsburgh virtually all of the leverage at the negotiating table next season. As indicated previously, Brown is under contract through 2017. However, the Steelers have the option to slap the franchise tag on Brown in 2018 if nothing gets done next summer. In this sense, Brown could conceivably be under team control through his 30th birthday. Not even the Browns would sign a 30-year-old receiver to a $15 million per year contract. With this in mind, it is indisputably in Brown's best interest to sign an extension next summer, as he could justifiably seek a contract that is laden with bonus money in the first two or three years. The Steelers will absolutely be forced to pay Brown an eye-boggling sum of money to retain his services, but it will most certainly be less than he would've commanded on the open market. Plus, both sides can avoid the bad blood that stalled negotiations and franchise tags typically bring.
Overall, the Steelers provided their star player with a much-deserved raise while also establishing a healthy relationship for future negotiations. Brown, meanwhile, received some short-term compensation for his efforts as well as a promise for a long-term deal next summer.