Kevin Gorman’s Take 5: Steelers offer no guarantees as circus leaves town
The more the Pittsburgh Steelers talk about Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell and Ben Roethlisberger, the more they deny that one of the NFL’s flagship franchises has become the NFL version of a three-ring circus.
The surest sign of a dysfunctional organization is when everyone around the league recognizes the dysfunction, yet you maintain that it’s all just being blown out of proportion.
But they have a point: For all of the drama and distractions involving Brown, Bell and Ben, this is all about money.
1. Fall from grace: It was only three years ago that the Steelers had a dynamic offense that featured arguably the league’s best running back and receiver, with a quarterback headed for the Hall of Fame.
Even so, the Steelers sputtered to a 4-5 start before winning seven consecutive games on their way to an AFC championship game loss at New England.
The Steelers started as a Super Bowl favorite the following season, but Le’Veon Bell skipped the offseason in protest of the franchise tag being placed upon him. Despite going 13-3, they lost at home to Jacksonville in an AFC divisional playoff.
That was the beginning of the end.
When Bell declined to sign a second franchise-tag tender, even at $14.54 million, it sent a strong message to the Steelers and the NFL that their way of doing business was no longer the model.
2. Paid in full: So much focus has been on the contract offers Bell turned down when the only money that matters is the guaranteed.
That was a sticking point for Bell, who wanted more guaranteed money. There have been reports that he turned down a five-year, $70-million deal, as well as a three-year, $47-million offer. But Bell balked at the guaranteed money, which wasn’t good enough.
When Todd Gurley signed a four-year deal worth $60 million – which included $45 million guaranteed – it not only proved Bell’s point but planted a seed with Brown.
3. No need to restructure: It’s important to remember Brown helped the Steelers (and himself) by restructuring his contract last March.
That allowed the Steelers to save salary cap space for Bell, if he signed his franchise-tag tender. And it gave Brown more guaranteed money at age 30.
By deciding not to use the transition tag on Bell and allowing him to become a free agent, the Steelers have created cap space.
But Brown wants more money.
4. Here’s why: Brown believes he’s the best receiver in the NFL.
And he wants to get paid like it.
As for contract values, according to overthecap.com, Brown’s $68 million ranks below Odell Beckham Jr. ($90 million/$41 million fully guaranteed), Mike Evans ($82.5 million/$55 million fully guaranteed), DeAndre Hopkins and Brandin Cooks (both $81 million), with Hopkins having $36.5 million fully guaranteed and Cooks getting $20.5 million fully guaranteed.
They all will be either 26 or 27 this season, and Brown turns 31 in July.
Brown’s contract might have an average annual salary of $17 million, but he’s set to make $12.625 in salary plus a $2.5 million roster bonus, $11.3 million next year and $12.5 million in 2021.
For all of his antics, that’s what affects his trade value the most.
5. Pay the QB: The Steelers have made it clear they intend to re-sign Roethlisberger, who turns 37 on March 2.
The Steelers have no choice but to pay their franchise quarterback after a season in which he led the NFL in passing yards, attempts and completions (not to mention interceptions), but it’s amazing to consider that they could part ways with the All-Pro running back and All-Pro receiver who are still in their primes to keep a quarterback who will be pushing 40 when his next deal expires.
It’s a sign that the Steelers will continue to do business their way, offering no guarantees and pretending that there is no circus as it leaves town.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .