PITTSBURGH – Business might soon be booming for Steelers receiver Antonio Brown. As for running back Le’Veon Bell, that situation is in a holding pattern, at least for now.
General Manager Kevin Colbert said Thursday the Steelers are in active negotiations with Brown on a new contract Colbert hopes will allow Brown to retire in Pittsburgh.
Brown, who has topped 100 receptions in each of the past four seasons, has one year remaining on his current deal. He’s scheduled to earn just $4.7 million in 2017 after the Steelers adjusted his contract in both 2015 and 2016.
His agent, Drew Rosenhaus, is in Pittsburgh and the deal could get done soon.
Cincinnati’s A.J. Green is the league’s highest-paid receiver at $15 million per year.
“I can say unequivocally that we want Antonio Brown to retire as a Steeler, just like we want Le’Veon to retire as a Steeler,” Colbert said Thursday.
Working out a new deal with Bell, an who will be an unrestricted free agent March 9, could be a little more tricky.
Currently, Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson is the highest-paid running back in the league with a contract that averages $14 million per season. The second highest is Buffalo’s LeSean McCoy, who makes an average of $8 million per year.
Bell led the NFL in total yards from scrimmage in 2014 and led the AFC in that statistic in 2016, despite playing in 12 games. But he has ended each of the past three seasons with an injury.
The latest injury, which Colbert said has been classified as a sports hernia, occurred in the first quarter of the Steelers’ loss at New England in the AFC Championship, but Bell also suffered knee injuries that ended his 2014 and 2015 seasons.
“The (franchise) tag is always an option,” said Colbert. “That’s something we’ll use if we feel it’s necessary. We have until March 1 to make that decision. This thing is very fluid. It changes daily once you start into talks with players and see how it’s all going to fit. We know that’s an option. Even if we were to use the tag on Le’Veon, we would certainly want to do something long term.”
If the Steelers place the franchise tag on Bell, it would protect them from another team signing him once the free agency period begins. They would then have until July 1 to work out a long-term deal with their All-Pro running back.
But it also would mean he would be guaranteed as much as $12.5 million in 2017.
Also complicating matters is Bell’s injury. Colbert said there is uncertainty as to whether Bell will require surgery.
“He gets opinions and we discuss it, but no decision has been made. The sports hernia is something that (is) a little bit of a mystery-type injury. (Safety) Mike Mitchell played with a sports hernia, (and) it started to bother him in training camp. You had to monitor him through the camp. He played through it his whole first year for us,” Colbert said. “It’s kind of an injury that you can play with it, but in the end, it may need rest, it may need surgery. It’s something you’re always trying to figure out. And in Le’Veon’s case, we’re still trying to figure it out.”
But Colbert said those injury issues or the fact Bell has twice been suspended for violation of the league’s substance abuse policy wouldn’t keep the Steelers from giving him a long-term deal.
“(The injuries) were acute situations that couldn’t be prevented,” Colbert said. “Unfortunately, running backs get injured a little more than other positions due to the nature of the position. We have no reservations about Le’Veon. Not his durability or his ability. He’s grown, I think, tremendously off the field. And … I hope, he continues to grow in those areas. But there’s no hesitation to having him be with us, hopefully, for his whole career.”
The Steelers also are trying to figure out what to do with their cornerback position.
Their top three – Artie Burns, Ross Cockrell and William Gay – are under contract for 2017. But the team released Justin Gilbert last week rather than pay him a $2 million roster bonus. And 2015 second-round draft pick, Senquez Golson, has missed each of the past two seasons with shoulder and foot injuries.
Colbert said the Steelers are open to re-signing Gilbert, who they acquired via a trade with Cleveland for a 2018 seventh-round draft pick, and have some trepidation regarding the status of Golson.
“Nothing against Senquez, but unfortunately, he’s been hurt two years in a row, both significant season-ending injuries,” Colbert said.
“When a guy’s been injured, you don’t want to refrain from adding a guy at that position just because of the potential that he’ll be OK. The potential of them helping us won’t keep us from adding a guy at that position.”
Odds and end zones
Colbert said he doesn’t expect a fine or other punishment from the NFL for not putting Bell on the team’s injury report prior to the game with the Patriots because there was never a chance Bell would not play. … According to Colbert, he is working on the assumption that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is going to play in 2017. Roethlisberger said at the end of the season that he was unsure if he will return. … Colbert said the Steelers want to re-sign inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons and backup quarterback Landry Jones, both of whom are scheduled to become free agents.