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Antonio Brown 'grateful' for new contract, trust in Steelers

| Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017, 11:21 a.m.
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown smiles as he answers questions during a news conference about his contract extension at the headquarters of the NFL football team, Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown, left, smiles as he is introduced by Steelers President Art Rooney II for a news conference about Brown's contract extension at the NFL football team's headquarters, Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown, right, and Steelers President Art Rooney II smile as they talk to reporters during a news conference about Brown's contract extension at the NFL football team's headquarters, Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Chris Adamski
Steelers wide reciever Antonio Brown arrives at his press conference at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017.

The Antonio Brown contract extension with the Steelers was several years in the making.

But it took just a few weeks of actual negotiating to get it done.

"To their credit," Brown's agent, Drew Rosenhaus, said of the Steelers, "they told us it would be their top priority this offseason – and they followed through. It was first deal they got done."

Brown's five-year, $72.71 million contract announced Monday includes $68 million in new money over the four additional years added to his tenure with the Steelers – termed that way, the $17 million annual average is the NFL's highest for a wide receiver.

During a Tuesday news conference at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, Brown repeatedly reinforced that he was "excited and grateful to be a part of this organization."

And why wouldn't he be? Not only did the Steelers keep their promise that they'd give him a lucrative extension this year – they did it swiftly, within 36 days of the season ending.

"Art and Dan Rooney, they've been first class since I first got here," said Brown, who was characteristically well-styled for the occasion, sporting a fresh hair cut and wearing a black three-piece suit with white spots and three red-rose bustier flower arrangements stitched into it. "(Chairman) Dan always sends letters to my house that make me feel warm and welcome. (They) always invite my family around and have always just treated me as a professional, always are communicative with me.

"I had a great conversation with (team president) Mr. Art Rooney (II) last summer. And once he gives you his word, he sticks to his word."

It took a degree of trust amongst one of the league's marquee franchises, one of its best players, Brown, arguably the sport's top agent, Rosenhaus, to get to this point.

Brown has been recognized as an elite receiver since 2013, when he ranked second in the NFL in both catches and receiving yards. Since then, he's accumulated more receptions (481) – by far – of any player over a four-season span in league history.

But with a contract that ran through the 2017 season signed in 2012 (just 25 games and 85 catches into his career), Brown was destined to long be significantly underpaid. And with the Steelers having long adhered to a strict policy of refusing to renegotiate contracts of non-quarterbacks until a player was entering the final season of his deal, things had the potential to get ugly.

They never did.

"We'd been working on this deal for many years now," Rosenhaus said in a phone interview Tuesday. "We were able to keep the process moving in a professional fashion."

That meant no leaks to the media and no public complaints from Brown or his representation. But it also worked because of some give from the team side: advances in salary each of the past two seasons.

Ultimately, the Steelers gave Brown a raise of $2 million in both 2015 and 2016, creatively terming it an "advance" on the contract from a 2017 salary that would never play out – assuming, of course, the Steelers kept their word and reworked the deal during this spring or summer.

They did just that, beginning soon after the Steelers' Jan. 22 AFC championship game defeat. Rosenhaus met face-to-face with Colbert and Steelers' V.P. for football & business administration Omar Kahn at both the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., that ensuing weekend as well as at the Super Bowl the next week in Houston.

"There was no hesitation, there was no qualification," Rosenhaus said. "It was, 'We're going to jump right into what we said we were going to do, and we'll negotiate in good faith.' And they did."

The Steelers have a busy offseason – they applied the franchise tag to star running back Le'Veon Bell on Monday, longtime linebacker Lawrence Timmons will hit free agency next week and standout young defensive end Stephon Tuitt is entering the final season of his contract and therefore is due an extension.

It was important to get Brown's contract done quickly, Rooney said, "so that we could all get back to work and have one of our priorities done (early in the offseason)."

"A lot of reasons why we would want to have a player like Antonio, obviously," Rooney II said. "He's one of the hardest-working players I think we have ever had on our team. He leads by example, and I think at this point most importantly he has a lot of records, a lot of accolades -- but there's really only thing that's on his mind and on our mind: that's bringing another Super Bowl trophy here."

Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at cadamski@tribweb.com or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.

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