For Pittsburgh Steelers fans it is tough to rationalize any positives from the Antonio Brown saga other than relief that the situation is finally over. Quite possibly the biggest sting from trading Antonio Brown to the Oakland Raiders for a third and fifth round pick is that the Pittsburgh Steelers still have a $21 Million dead cap hit in 2019. By trading him before the March 17th deadline, the team ensured that they are wiped clean from his salary moving forward, but it does hurt to know that the picks are quite literally all they have to replace Brown with because his salary is on their cap this season.
What makes this hefty dead salary ironic is that it is tied to none other than Le’Veon Bell. Of course the two are linked together once again.
Antonio Brown signed a four-year $68 million extension with the Steelers in 2017 with $19 million guaranteed. That came with a $17 million cap hit in 2018. However, if we go back to 2018, we can remember the Steelers were in contract negotiations with Le’Veon Bell and had to quickly clear money to apply a franchise tag and work out a long-term deal.
In doing so, the team turned to their trusted veteran Antonio Brown. Brown could do the Steelers a solid, right?They gave Brown a $6 million signing bonus and freed up $9.75 million in 2018, giving them the space to franchise tag Bell.
However, that $9.75 million had to be prorated onto the final three years of his contract. In trading Antonio Brown just a season later, that $9.75 is no longer prorated and instead gets dumped onto the Steelers salary cap in 2019 with no way of moving it.
Of course, all of the money they saved in 2018 and spent on Le’Veon Bell was put to no good use. While it all got rolled over to the 2019 season, most of it is now covered in dead money from Antonio Brown, ensuring that they get no value for about $10 million worth of cap space for the second straight season.
Hindsight plays a vital role in this situation, but had the Steelers thought there was any chance Bell would have sat out, they obviously would not have decided to tag him. Heck, after seeing James Conner and Jaylen Samuels play it became quite apparent that the Steelers should have just let Bell walk from the jump. They were confident in keeping Bell, despite never changing their stance from the structure of their offer to Bell. That comes down to a miscommunication on their end.
Of course, as much as they assumed Bell would show up and play for them in 2018, they were even more confident there would be no way that they could move on from Brown this quickly or the team would never have restructured his salary.
Had they not restructured his deal, only $11 million in dead money would have been on their salary cap in 2019, and they would have saved about $7 million in salary cap space by trading him. They did not see any of this coming and were not prepared for it financially.
Two players that Steelers fans will lump together for eternity teamed up to give the Steelers one more middle finger on the way out in terms of a heap of dead cap space sitting around providing no value for two years.