Antonio Brown and the Impact to the Steelers Salary Cap

There has been a lot of speculation since the end of the season as to whether or not the Pittsburgh Steelers would trade Antonio Brown before the start of the 2019 season.

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While Brown remains a great player on the field, it’s the off the field issues that may have the relationship nearing its end. There were reports during the season of a conflict between Brown and Ben Roethlisberger, and Brown was benched for the last game of the season against the Cincinnati Bengals after not showing up for work the day before.

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Now there are reports that Brown has requested that the Steelers trade him.

Players the caliber of Brown do not become available via a trade in the NFL very often, so the market for his services could be strong, particularly when the team trading for Brown would assume a contract with no guaranteed salary and with all signing bonus money already paid for and applied to another team’s salary cap. 

However, the impact of trading (or releasing) Brown this offseason would have a major impact on the Steeler’s 2019 (and potentially 2020) salary cap.

Brown, who will be 31 before the start of the 2019 season, has three remaining years on his contract. As his contract was restructured in 2018, here are the current contract allocations per year:

SalaryBonusRoster Salary Cap
2019$12,625,000$7,040,000$2,500,000$22,165,000
2020$11,300,000$7,040,000$18,340,000
2021$12,500,000$7,040,000$19,540,000

Per the CBA, when a player is traded, his base salary transfers to the new team.  Which team is responsible for the roster bonus (both cap and cash) is determined by the date of the trade.

Let’s look at this trade (or potential release) in two scenarios. First, we will look at the trade as if it happens between March 13 (the start of the league year) and March 16 (before the 2019 roster bonus is guaranteed on March 17).

Trade (Or Release) Before March 17

In this scenario, absent a contract restructure by the new team, the new team will be responsible for the 2019 non-guaranteed salary and the roster bonus, as the trigger date for the bonus will not happen until after the trade. The total cap charge and the total cash outlay for the salary and roster bonus would be identical for 2019 ($15,125,000) as there are no prorated bonuses for which the new team is responsible. The new team will be responsible for the following amounts from both a cash and cap perspective through the remainder of the existing contract:

SalaryBonus Roster Salary Cap
2019$12,625,000$2,500,000$15,125,000
2020$11,300,000$11,300,000
2021$12,500,000$12,500,000

If the new team decides to move on from Brown after the 2019 season there will be no charge to the salary cap for 2020 or 2021 as none of the salary is guaranteed.

The cap charge to the Steelers for 2019 will be $21,120,000, as upon a trade, all prorated bonus money is escalated against the cap in the year of the trade. This would be a significant cap hit for a player no longer on the team. Here, the Steeler’s have three years of bonus money at $7,040,000 to count against the cap, thus the $21,120,000 total.

SalaryBonusRoster Salary Cap
2019$21,120,000$21,120,000
2020
2021

Note that this is a cap number, not a cash number, as the cash for the signing bonus has already been paid to the player previously.  

The salary cap application for the Steelers is the same if instead of trading Brown, the Steelers chose to release Brown after the start of the new league year but before his roster bonus for 2019 is guaranteed.  This is not likely as it would be better to receive an asset (likely a draft pick or picks) and take the cap hit versus receiving no asset and taking the same cap hit.

Post June 1 Trade (Or Release)

If the Steelers do not want to take the dead money cap hit all in 2019 and want to spread the dead money cap hit over two years, they will decide to trade Brown after June 1. After June 1, a trade or release will not escalate all dead money into the current year for the Steelers. Instead, the Steelers would have to account for the current year’s cap charge in 2019, with the remainder hitting the cap in 2020.

As Brown’s roster bonus would be guaranteed at this point, Brown and the Steelers could, theoretically, renegotiate his roster bonus to defer it until later in the league year for a time after a trade would likely be completed. The roster bonus could also be converted to a signing bonus, but this would result in more dead money being applied against the Steelers salary cap in 2019 and 2020 so we will ignore that option for purposes of this post June 1 trade scenario.

If the Steelers trade Brown after June 1, the team receiving Brown would again be responsible for the payment of Brown’s salary. The team responsible for the payment of the roster bonus would be determined by the trigger date of the roster bonus. If that date is in March it will be paid by the Steelers. If that date is renegotiated to be after the trade date, it will be the responsibility of the team trading for Brown’s services.

Similar to the treatment if Brown was traded in March, if the new team decides to move on from Brown after the 2019 season, there would be no charge to the salary cap for the new team for 2020 or 2021 as none of the salary is guaranteed.

The impact to the Steelers cap is much different though by completing the trade after June 1. The Steelers would:

  • Carry $22,165,000 against the salary cap, consisting of the 2019 non-guaranteed base salary (though not yet paid), roster bonus (though not paid if renegotiated to a later date in the league year), and prorated signing bonus (already paid) until the time of the trade;
  • The unpaid non-guaranteed base salary amount and the unpaid roster bonus charge would be removed from the Steelers cap when the trade is completed;
  • The Steelers cap charge for 2019 as of the trade will be the prorated signing bonus (already paid) for 2019, in this case, $7,040,000; and
  • The cap charge for 2020 would be the prorated signing bonus (already paid) amounts for 2020 and 2021, totaling $14,080,000
SalaryBonusRoster Salary Cap
2019$7,040,000$7,040,000
2020$14,080,000$14,080,000
2021

While this would result in a cap charge being allocated over two years, potentially softening the blow and providing more cap room for the Steelers in 2019, it delays the inevitable and there would still be a significant cap charge to be dealt with in 2020. This scenario also assumes that Brown and his agent agree with the Steelers to defer the roster bonus date. While proceeding with a trade after June 1 may still benefit the Steelers from a cap perspective even if the roster bonus date is not renegotiated, by spreading the dead money cap hit over two years, the total amount of the dead money cap hit (and the actual cash paid to Brown by the Steelers) would be increased by $2,500,000 to account for the roster bonus paid in March.

2 Replies to “Antonio Brown and the Impact to the Steelers Salary Cap”

  1. Wow, I just read about Josh Gordod with the Seahawks. Did you hear about how he got suspended? Apparently he got in trouble for drugs. He has been suspended 6 times. can you believe that?? I imagine coach Pete Carroll is probably not too happy.

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