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Cap Class: Antonio Brown, Can He Be Traded?

By G.Stryker

Cap Class is a series where I break down the cap to find the amounts associated with the roster, dead money, or future cost of players.  Dollar amounts and cap cost may not be exciting, but they can be interesting when you look inside the numbers. I will place explanations inside of {braces}, so if you know how those numbers are found, you can skip over them.  So grab your pencils and calculators, and let’s do some math!

There are a number of articles out today who do not have all of the information, nor understand how the cap works in regard to Antonio Brown’s contract.  Let’s dive into it. In 2017 AB signed a 5 year $68M contract with a $19M signing bonus. The $19M prorated over 5 years is $3.8M per year. This year, AB restructured his contract and earned a restructure bonus of $12.96M (which turned bonus money and his 2018 salary into a signing bonus).  This restructure bonus gets prorated over the remaining 4 years at $3.24M per year.

You can not dump restructure or signing bonuses, that is what leads to dead cap space.  Brown’s prorated restructure bonus of $3.24M gets added to his prorated signing bonus of $3.8M to yield the prorated bonus amount of $7.04 per year for the next 3 years.  If you multiply $7.04 by 3 (the years remaining on the contract), you get $21.12M (will round to $21M for future references), which is the dead cap value. If Brown is released prior to July 1st, all $21M must be accounted for on the 2019 cap of the Pittsburgh Steelers, in full.  

This contract is not made to get out of in its 3rd season, and only becomes an option to leave after 4 seasons have accrued.  The only way to lessen the cap hit this year, is to declare AB as a post June 1st trade/release. This means his prorated bonus of $7.04M and most likely, his 2019 roster bonus of $2.5M get counted against the 2019 salary cap for a total of $9.59M.  The remaining 2 years of prorated bonuses go on the 2020 salary cap for a total of $14.08M. When defraying signing bonuses, and releasing a player, it always has to be done over 2 years, not over the remaining length of the contract (if it is longer than 2 years).  So any article stating the Steelers would have a dead cap amount of $7.04M over the next 3 years would be incorrect.

So now that the facts are laid out, is there a chance to trade Antonio Brown?  The answer is yes. The Steelers will not want to trade AB if they don’t get equal or greater trade value (draft picks and/or players), and those draft picks must be high and frequent, to account for $21M in dead money.  

There is one more option that could entice the Steelers to move Antonio Brown, and that would be if he agrees to pay back some or all of his remaining prorated signing bonus,  Any dollar paid back to the Steelers would come off of the Steelers’ cap, so if AB elects to pay all $21M back to leave the team, the Steelers would have $0 in dead money, once he moves (depending on whether or not the $2.5M roster bonus was awarded).  This aspect could get very interesting if AB’s agent Drew Rosenhaus, lines up a big money contract that would give him guarantees of over $40M. That way, AB could justify paying the Steelers back for leaving, when he’s getting more money for himself, in return.

Trading Antonio Brown at this point is purely speculation, but this would be a unique situation where a team would have the opportunity to pick up the best player in the league, at one of the most coveted positions on the team for the prime of his career.  It could turn into a Herschel Walker situation, where the Dallas Cowboys sent Walker and 3 draft picks to the Minnesota Vikings for 5 players and 8 draft picks. If a similar offer comes to the table, the Steelers would have to seriously consider it, even if it means eating some of that $21M in dead cap space.

Antonio Brown’s contract breakdown can be viewed here.

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