As mentioned previously here on Steel Curtain Rising, the Pittsburgh Steelers made a decisive statement when they cut off negotiations with Mike Wallace andopted (instead?) to resign Antonio Brown.
The move also satisfied an emotional need for a fan base who traditionally has had little sympathy with hold outs, although this later factor undoubtedly had no impact on the Steelers decision making.
But if the move provided Steelers Nation with an emotional high, the the question still remains:
Was giving Antonio Brown big money now the right football move?
It’s hard to say.
Based on what I saw during the second half of 2011 I was of the mind that if forced to choose between Mike Wallace and Brown I’d choose Brown. But then again, I thought drafting a quarterback in the first round of 2004 was a mistake….
Antonio Brown impressed greatly as a rookie, making an immediate impact and aggressively working his way into the Steelers offense.
He continued on that trajectory in 2011, becoming such a significant play maker that the drop off in Hines Ward’s play barely impacted the team.
Yet one stand out season is not a lot to hang your hat on.
To wit, the Steelers have never given a contract extension to a player after only two years. The only exception closely resembling this would be the deal Willie Parker got in 2006, but that does not compare. Parker was an exclusive-rights free agent and had no contract.
Parker had also clearly proven himself as a starter by not only pushing Jerome Bettis but also Duce Staley to the bench.
In contrast Antonio Brown has started only three games for the Steelers.
That’s right, the Pittsburgh Steelers have just given 42 million dollars to a man with three starts under his belt who has yet to face a situation where defensive staffs game plan specifically to stop him.
That is a very thin resume. But with that said, Antonio Brown has:
- earned his stripes in the trenches
- come up with clutch catches in the playoffs vs. the Ravensand then vs. the Jets
- is clearly in a position of establishing himself as a leader on and off the field.
At the end of the day the Steelers are taking a risk, but on balance its one worth taking. If Brown works out to be the player he is on track to become, this deal will look like a total steal for the Steelers come 2014 or so.
Why Resign Brown Now?
The next question is now the time for the Steelers to make such a move?
In cold, calculating football terms, the answer is certainly “no.” Wallace has one year left on his contract, and then he’ll be a restricted free agent. The Steelers would still hold the lion’s share of leverage next March.
Had Machiavelli written on NFL personnel matters as opposed to matters of state, he’d undoubtedly would have counseled Kevin Colbert to play the cards close to the vest, and hold off until the off season.
But that’s not the Steelers Way. Never has been and hopefully never will be.
Consider, in the past twelve months the Steelers have:
- Given a long-term extension to Troy Polamalu, when the smart money would have been to wait
- Released Troy Smith when Bryon Leftwich’s injury historywould indicate it would have been “wiser” to bring him to camp
- Cut Jonathan Scott instead of keeping him in camp
Each of the moves was the “wrong” move from both a football and a business stand point (with the possible exception of the money that releasing Scott freed).
Yet each of these moves signaled that the Pittsburgh Steelers are an organization that believes in taking care of its people. Make no mistake about it. The NFL is a business and the Steelers make unsentimental business decisions about personnel ever year.
That capacity was on display last spring with the departures of Aaron Smith, James Farrior and Hines Ward, to name a few.
But even in business, there’s a right way to treat people and a wrong way to treat people. And the Steelers, for the most part, treat their players right.
The most of the players associated with the franchise know this, they understand it, and they respect it. The organization is stronger because of it and the team certainly need not tie itself into knots over the players who don’t recognize that.