We wrap up our look at the AFC North today with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Starting tomorrow or Saturday will be the AFC South, which we will kick off with the Texans.
Best: Antonio Brown, 5 years, $41.9 million, $8.5M guaranteed
I was a bit conflicted with this choice because if you go back to 2012 when this was signed Brown had one 1,100 yard season and his other year in the NFL produced less than 175 yards. Brown was a 6th round pick so it’s not as if he was a can’t miss prospect and he was not considered the number 1 receiver on the team at the time. That distinction went to Mike Wallace who was feuding with Steelers management over a contract. In many ways this contract was considered to be something of a message to Wallace that the Steelers were prepared to move on and he needed to report. So in many ways this was a risky contract.
But we give teams grief when a risky contract flops and by that same token they should get the credit for getting it right. The fact is Brown is arguably the best receiver in the NFL and his $9M salary is likely $4 million less a year than he would have earned had he played his rookie contract out to free agency and $6 million or more a year less than his worth in todays league. The Steelers did mitigate some of the contractual risk with just having an $8.5M signing bonus and low cash salary in the 2nd year of his contract.
While the Steelers have made a bit of a mess of his contract since he signed it with restructures in every year, Brown is the type of player where the restructure is the right call because the skill level is high and cap hits so low to start that you likely won’t regret the decision. The Steelers also made a shrewd move last year with a last minute tweak of the contract when Brown was reportedly unhappy with the deal to entice him to play the year happy. By waiting until the eve of the season it more or less blocked Brown from holding out in 2016 since the Steelers cant give him a raise until September. Brown is most likely the best veteran value in the NFL.
Worst: Lawrence Timmons, 5 years, $47.8 million, $11M guaranteed
Pittsburgh is among the best in the NFL at self evaluating talent and they did a good job with Timmons who has been a steady member of the defense for years. The problems with this contract really are not the valuation but more the handling of the contract since they signed him back in 2011.
The Steelers restructured this contact three times in four years, converting about $20 million to prorated bonuses during that time. I think you could make an argument that by just the second year of the five year extension they virtually guaranteed four of the five years for Timmons. Unlike the Brown contract above, Timmons was already on a high money contract so each restructure made things worse on the backend of the contract. Also unlike Brown, Timmons played a position that saw stagnant or declining growth since he signed his deal years ago so any large salary cap charge only made his charge relative to the rest of the NFL that much higher.
Because he was set to count over $11 million in cap for the second year in a row in 2015 they were forced to restructure again leaving him with a $15 million cap hit this season. For an inside linebacker these numbers are pretty absurd. The largest cap hit I can recall for an ILB in recent memory was David Harris at $13 million a few years back. Timmons has had the largest cap hit in the NFL at the ILB position in 2014 by over $2 million, in 2015 by just under $1 million, and this year by over $5 million. There is really no reason for him to accept an extension at this point to lower his number unless they give him something significant which they really have not done in their veteran deals. So not a bad one at the start but one that they turned into a bit of a mess by the end of it.