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Locking up Brown and Bell to long-term deals the only logical decision for Steelers

If the Steelers are in “win now” mode (and with Ben Roethlisberger presumably just a few years away from retirement, they should be), inking Antonio Brown to a long-term deal just makes sense. If they can do the same with Le’Veon Bell, all the better.

NFL: AFC Wild Card-Miami Dolphins at Pittsburgh Steelers Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

It wasn’t long ago that the thought of the Steelers losing both receiver Antonio Brown and running back Le’Veon Bell left many fans (including me) anxious and stressed-out.

But then Pittsburgh went ahead and inked Brown to a four year contract extension through the 2021 season worth $68 million, and the reaction by far too many fans (and media members like Colin Cowherd who would blast the Steelers if they perfectly cloned a young Jim Brown and signed him) has been “Noooooooooooooooooooo!”

Brown is now the highest paid receiver in the NFL, higher than Dez Bryant, higher than A.J. Green and even higher than his nemesis in terms of public opinion regarding the greatest at his position in the game today, Julio Jones.

As the fans, and Cowherd, have been asking ever since the Brown deal was finalized last week, “How can the Steelers pay a wide-receiver so much money?”


How can they not? I mean, this isn’t like they went out and made Colin Kaepernick the highest paid backup quarterback in NFL history (please, offseason sportswriter gods, let this happen); they locked up the best receiver in the NFL, if not in terms of overall talent, then in terms of production (481 receptions for 6,315 yards since 2013).

Did anyone think the Steelers could get away with not making Brown the highest paid receiver in the game? You probably thought that. Did anyone seriously want them to part ways with Brown? I listen to talk shows, read comments on the Internet and realize who Sam Darnold is, so I know you wanted that.

You see, Sam Darnold is a college quarterback who is going to be a top draft choice in 2018, or whenever, and perhaps you wished the Steelers would trade Brown to some team for its first round pick (since fantasies are fun, this pick would obviously be the very first one in the 2018 draft), take Darnold, groom him to be the next Ben Roethlisberger and, presto, another 10 years of winning with a franchise quarterback (talking in absolutes is almost as much fun as fantasies).

Maybe you just wanted the Steelers to part ways with Brown. After all, he is a diva who likes to post Facebook Live feeds during locker room speeches and complains about not getting the football enough (a receiver who wants the football more, can you believe that)?

With Brown out of the way, this would enable the Steelers to go on a free-agent spending spree, where they would sign both the top edge pass-rusher and top corner on the market—two guys who probably aren’t the very best at their positions.

Seems like something the Steelers always do.

Yes, instead of signing Brown to a $70 million deal, let’s do that for cornerback Malcolm Butler.

Speaking of things you may not have wanted to happen so the Steelers could either sign Malcolm Butler or draft Sam Darnold, Pittsburgh placed the franchise tag on Bell, meaning he should be the highest paid running back in the league this season and, if the two sides reach an agreement on a contract extension, for many more to come.

If Bell is signed to a long-term deal, your reaction may also be, “Noooooooooooooo!” (And who knows what Cowherd will say about it.)

I’m not going to go and list Bell’s statistics or smugly write about how silly it is to not want the very best player at his position to remain a Steeler over the long-haul, but I’m thinking those things as I finish off this paragraph.

Yes, like Brown, Bell is a pain in the butt, one who has been suspended multiple times for drug offenses and has also missed several more games due to injury.

Is Bell worth the pain and ultimately the money?

I’m afraid so.

Could Bell find himself on the suspended list at any moment, if he smokes another joint and/or misses another mandatory drug test?

Perhaps. But he could also win several league MVP awards and become the Jim Brown of this generation.

Will Brown be the same receiver at 32 that he now is at 28 or 29? Maybe not. But he’ll probably continue to stake a claim as the best in the business over the next few years.

If Bell does join Ben and Brown in the “Killer B’s with Killer Contracts Club,” could the Steelers find themselves saddled with some huge cap hits, in the not so distant future, if Ben retires, Brown doesn’t age gracefully and Bell’s wheels fall off (or they’re given The Denver Boot by the NFL’s drug policy)?

Perhaps. But that’s the price of doing business; that’s the price of going for it now.

If the Steelers are in “win now” mode, they shouldn’t be worried about Roethlisberger’s replacement or whether or not Brown and Bell will still be productive in 2020 or 2021.

Their only concern should be taking advantage of the window that is Roethlisberger’s remaining years. One way for that window to quickly slam shut on both Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert’s fingers is to part ways with the best receiver and the best running back in the NFL today.

John Steigerwald made an appearance on Mark Madden’s radio show recently, and he made a point about championships that resonated with me like never before:

He said that, in the grand scheme of things, six championships in 85 years really isn’t that many for any franchise, even one with as rich a history as the Steelers.

Therefore, if you have a chance to go after one right now, you do it.

There was a time in the 90s, when it looked like the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls would never stop winning NBA titles. Here we are, two decades after they won their sixth in eight years, and they’re still stuck on a half-dozen.

Right now, it looks like the Patriots, who have won five Super Bowls since 2001, will never be stopped. However, 30 years from now, their grand-total probably won’t be far off the five that they’ve earned in this ongoing Belichick/Brady era of dominance.

Steelers fans started clamoring for that One For the Thumb, seconds after a 31-19 victory over the Rams in Super Bowl XIV in January of 1980. Unfortunately, it took 26 years to decorate that thumb with another ring.

For almost a decade now, the war-cry has been “Seventh Heaven.” Twenty-six years has a way of catching up to you pretty fast and, like you, I’m sure the Steelers don’t want to be going for “Seventh Heaven” in the Year 2034.

Locking up Brown and Bell to long-term deals may be a bit risky, but with Roethlisberger just a few years away from retirement, they offer the Steelers the best chance to win right now.

Does this really concern you that much? Bell is without a doubt the best running back in the league, and it wasn’t that long ago that Brown was considered the best football player in the entire NFL.

But what about the future, you ask? We can worry about that later.