The Antonio Brown Holdout: What It Is and What It Isn’t….

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown skips voluntary workouts causing a collective heart attack in Steelers Nation….” Or something like that.

As any Steelers fan knows, standout wide receiver Antonio Brown has missed the first of the Steelers voluntary off season work outs, and he’s apparently done so because he’s not happy with his contract. The act in-and-of-itself set off a major panic in the fan base, with multitudes immediately speculating that Brown planned to skip mandatory mini-camp and perhaps training camp as well.

Brown himself took to Twitter to calm the nerves of fans:

Ah… the power of a couple of Tweets. Now that Steelers Nation has accepted that Antonio Brown not showing up for calisthenics on the South Side doesn’t automatically disqualify Pittsburgh from a shot at Lombardi number 7, its time to take stock of what the Antonio Browns holdout is and what it isn’t.

What the Antonio Brown Holdout Isn’t

First, the Antonio Brown’s holdout isn’t actually a holdout. These are “voluntary” team work outs. Merriam Webster defines “Voluntary” this way: proceeding from the will or from one’s own choice or consent. Some off season activities are more “voluntary” than others. Most players are expected to show up to voluntary workouts.

And Polamalu arguably played better when he trained in California with Marv Marinovich than with the Steelers in Pittsburgh. It certainly turned out that way in 2008.

There are several other things that Brown’s non-hold out is not:

  • It’s not Mike Merriweather holding out the entire 1988 season (which incidentally is what got Greg Lloyd on to the field….)
  • It’s not Franco Harris holding out in summer of 1984
  • It’s not Barry Foster threatening to hold out just days before the first home playoff game in over a decade at Three Rivers Stadium
  • It’s not Hines Ward holding out during the summer of 2005
  • It’s not Mike Wallace refusing to abide by the terms of the CBA by holding out during training camp

Each of the men above had a signed contract that required them to perform certain duties, and each of the men refused to comply. There was nothing voluntary involved.

Things are different for Brown, whose contract and CBA leave him perfectly free attend or not.

What Antonio Brown’s Holdout Is

The Steelers have over 80 people on their off season roster at this point and it would be interesting to know who else is absent from voluntary workouts. Perhaps some member of the Pittsburgh chapter of the Pro Football Writers Association will or even has already enlightened us to this fact.

  • But we do know why we don’t already have this information:

That’s because the agents of the other absent players haven’t leaked that they’re absent because they’re unhappy with their contract.

An agent’s job is to get the best deal for his client, and agents can and do pull ever lever at their disposal to accomplish that feat. Including making noises either directly or indirectly to the press that their client isn’t happen with the said team. Look closely the next time you hear a “league source” say that someone might ask to be traded.

Given the tone and tenor of Brown’s tweets, it’s entirely possible that he’s missing voluntary workouts to be with his new born and his agent is taking advantage.

  • But the fact that contract griping is surfacing from Brown’s camp just three years into a six year tale warrants at least a yellow flag.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have had 3 coaches and 4 personnel heads since 1969. Lyndon Johnson was president the last time the Steelers fired a head coach. This is an organization that has a set way of doing things. They don’t deviate often.

They abruptly cut off in season contract negotiations in the middle of the 1993 and haven’t conducted them since. They don’t negotiate with hold outs. Ask Hall of Famer, past, present and future franchise pillar Franco Harris. And the Steelers have pretty clearly established the policy that they don’t extend deals until there is 1 year remaining.

  • Brown knows that. So does his agent Drew Rosenhaus.

Should they decide to test the Steelers, it will not end well.

What the Antoino Browns Holdout Actually Tells Us

Antionio Brown’s decision to skip voluntary work outs does tell us a number of things beyond its status as a yellow flag. As a fan, it’s easy to sit back and say “Brown signed the contract, he knew this might happen, he should put up and shut up.”

  • And there’s (almost) a certain irrefutable logic to that.

While Brown had had a solid rookie season and a very strong sophomore year, the Steelers took a real risk on offering a multi-million dollar long-term deal to a two year player. In exchange, Brown got an 8 figure payday 2 years ahead of schedule.

  • Given that the average NFL career lasts less than 4 years, that represents a huge cash advance.

But Brown has vastly out performed the terms of his contract. Brown is clearly better than Mike Wallace, and clearly better than all but a handful of NFL wide receivers, most of whom are paid much more than Brown. Here the instinct to say “Tough” is understandable, but ultimately not quite justified.

If it’s not unreasonable for an NFL team to offer a player a contract, and then cut him or ask him to take less money when the player underperforms that contract (think Hines Ward, Lance Moore, or even Troy Polamalu) then is it so unreasonable for a player like Brown to ask for more when he over performs?

A Solution for the Steelers and Antonio Brown?

The Steelers aren’t going to renegotiate Brown’s contract this summer, and they’re unlikely to do so in 2016 simply because of the precedent this would send.

However, they could perhaps defuse the situation by offering greater guarantees, perhaps even fully guaranteeing the final years of the deal should Brown get hurt?

  • That wouldn’t boost Brown’s salary, but it would give him more security.

Would Antonio Brown go for that? Would the Steelers even be interested in making such an offer? That’s hard to say. Perhaps we’ll know in two years.

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