Few teams are better at keeping their own than the Pittsburgh Steelers. Few teams are less willing to be held hostage by holdouts than the Pittsburgh Steelers. Both of these realities were evidenced in spades on Friday afternoon when the Steelers re-upped WR Antonio Brown with a 5-year, $42.5 million extension that takes effect after the 2012 season, locking up Brown through the end of the 2017 season. This signing is as notable for the fact that it was NOT Mike Wallace that was locked up as it was for the fact that Brown was, and the timing of the deal was clearly designed to send a message to the absent Wallace.
The contract for Brown is surprising at first blush. Although Brown had a breakout season in 2011, becoming the first player in NFL history with 1,000 receiving yards and 1,000 return yards in the same season, Brown has a grand total of 2 career TD’s and was still a year away from even being a RFA, let alone a UFA. James Harrison is the only Steeler that I can recall being resigned with two years left on an existing deal, and it’s something that is a rare occurence in the NFL at large.
All of that said, Brown emerged in 2011 as a dynamic weapon in the passing game, catching 69 passes for 1,108 yards, and 57 of his catches moved the chains, the 8th highest total in the NFL. Brown’s 27.3 ypa kickoff return figures ranked 5th in the NFL, and his 10.8 ypa punt return average was 10th. Brown’s a very good player locked up at a fair price for the next six seasons.
Turning to Mike Wallace, it is unclear what effect this will have on his long-term future with the Steelers. Conventional wisdom, or at least that of some writers, is that the Steelers will not pay big money to two WR’s:
One thing re Brown signs/Wallace doesn’t: I got the feeling last yr the Steelers wouldn’t pay big $ to both+liked Brown more. Versatility.
— Peter King (@SI_PeterKing) July 28, 2012
Further, Wallace reportedly already turned down the same contract that Brown readily signed on Friday:
The Steelers offered Mike Wallace very similar deal to Antonio Brown’s deal. Brown accepted, Wallace was offended.
— Mark Kaboly (@MarkKaboly_Trib) July 27, 2012
The Steelers hold all of the leverage on Mike Wallace, at least for 2012. Wallace must sign his tender by November 13 and report for Week 11 or he will be an RFA again in 2013. Obviously the Steelers would prefer that they have Mike Wallace for 16 games instead of 7 games, but if Wallace wants to play football in 2012, he’ll play it with the Steelers. In essence, the worst case scenario for the Steelers in 2012 is Vincent Jackson. Even more frustrating for Wallace, the Steelers could franchise him after the season and keep him in Pittsburgh even without a longterm deal, although Wallace would be able to console himself with at least $9.4 million in 2013 (that’s the franchise figure for WR’s in 2012).
I still believe that there is a strong probability that Mike Wallace plays in Denver on Sunday Night Football to open the season. Friday’s events, however, were a shot across Wallace’s bow that could go either way. Stay tuned.