Contract signed, Steelers star Brown focused on Super Bowl
PITTSBURGH (AP) Art Rooney II began the groundwork on making Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown a part of the organization ''for life'' last summer.
The team's longtime president pulled his occasionally eccentric star aside and promised that rewarding Brown for his record-breaking work would be a top priority in 2017.
''Once he gives you his word, he sticks to his word,'' Brown said.
And then some.
The Steelers made Brown the highest-paid wide receiver in the NFL when they signed him to a five-year deal worth more than $72 million on Monday night. It was an emphatic vote of confidence that the 28-year-old can extend his prime well into his 30s for a team that believes the window to a championship remains open so long as Brown is out there chasing down passes from Ben Roethlisberger.
''He's one of the hardest-working players we've ever had on our team,'' Rooney said on Tuesday. ''He leads by example.''
Yet for all of Brown's gaudy numbers, including an NFL-high 632 receptions since breaking into the league as a rookie in 2010, his resume is lacking in one very specific category: Super Bowl titles. It's that pursuit - and not the riches that come along with being the most well-compensated person at what you do in the world - that Brown insists will be his focus through 2021. And perhaps beyond.
''All the Steeler greats, all those guys have (rings),'' Brown said.
Brown does not. There was a near-miss in 2010 when Pittsburgh fell to Green Bay in the Super Bowl, a team on which Brown was more developmental role player than unstoppable force. He played a far larger role in 2016, when the Steelers won the AFC North and reached the AFC championship game before getting blown out by New England. Brown caught seven passes for 77 yards in the 36-17 defeat following a bumpy week in which he was forced to apologize for livestreaming from Pittsburgh's victorious locker room a week earlier at Kansas City.
Rooney likened Brown's behavior to ''little annoyances,'' one that had no impact on the team's interest in keeping him in the fold for the rest of the decade.
''He has a lot of accolades,'' Rooney said. ''But there's really only one thing on his mind and our mind, and that's bringing another Super Bowl here.''
Brown shared the news of his deal with Roethlisberger on Monday night. Asked if he told Roethlisberger that he needs the quarterback around, Brown smiled and replied ''that's always the topic.'' Brown hardly appears concerned about Roethlisberger's vague hints at retirement. And it's unlikely Brown would have agreed to lock up his long-term future with the understanding he'd have to break in a new quarterback in the process.
But there could be a number of new faces in the wide receivers room.
Markus Wheaton will become a free agent next week. Martavis Bryant's should return from suspension at some point in the offseason, with no guarantee that Bryant will be anywhere close to the form he showed during his breakout 2015. The rest of the group is hard-working but erratic, something that became a problem last season when teams would load up coverages to stop Brown from getting downfield. While he finished with 106 receptions for 1,284 yards and 12 touchdowns in making the All-Pro team, he averaged just 12.1 yards per catch, a significant dip from 2013-15.
''Every year is going to be a challenge,'' Brown said. ''It's only going to get harder. Teams are studying up to put the brakes on me. You've always got to show growth, improvement.''
Brown stressed ''We've got to find a way to get the job done, whatever the job entails.''
For Brown, the job no longer entails worrying about the number of zeroes on his paycheck. The six-year, $42-million deal he signed in 2012 after Mike Wallace rebuffed Pittsburgh's offer turned into one of the best bargains in the league. Brown is one of two players in NFL history with 100-plus receptions in four straight years.
The Steelers did their best to take care of him, giving him advances on his future salary each of the last two summers with the understanding they'd make it worth his while down the road. That moment arrived Monday night, when the 2010 sixth-round pick signed a contract that will make his No. 84 jersey a fixture for years to come.
''A lot of work to be done,'' Brown said. ''I'm excited about that process, grateful for that opportunity.''
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