With $45.9 million in space under the salary cap, it would look like the Pittsburgh Steelers were set to make a big splash in free agency. They still might, but as it turns out, much of that space is going to be used up to make sure they can keep two of their superstars around, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown.

Bell’s salary has yet to be decided, but since the team placed the exclusive franchise tag on him, he will make at least $11.9 million. Brown will make $4.7 million next season in the final year of his current contract. But he will be making a lot more in 2018.

Steelers give Brown a well-deserved raise

The Steelers have signed him to a contract extension that will make him the highest-paid wide receiver in NFL history, four-years for $68 million. While the deal averages $17 million a year, he will make $18.5 million in the first three seasons and $12.5 million in the final one. The deal also includes a $19 million signing bonus.

How much of the deal, if any, that is guaranteed has not been made public. With such a high salary, as soon as it isn’t guaranteed, Brown's name will come up as a possible salary cap casualty when the off-season rolls around—especially if he gets injured or if his production starts to slip. At his age (he’ll be 29 when next season starts), a dip in production will be expected.

But does he deserve it?

Reaction to the deal has been mixed. Many have called it just and fair while others have called him overrated and not worth it. Many of his detractors pointed to his performance in the AFC Championship where he made seven receptions (targeted nine times) for 77 yards. Not a bad game for most receivers, but for someone becoming the highest paid receiver in the game—kind of a letdown.

To be fair to Brown, without a running game to help out, the Patriots were able to focus on stopping Brown. While they didn’t stop him, they did contain him.

But the Steelers are not paying him $68 million because of his postseason success. They are doing so because he has made 481 receptions over the last four seasons, more than any other wide receiver in NFL history during any four-year stretch.

Last season was actually an off-year with just 106 receptions for 1284 yards. Since joining the Steelers in 2010, he has played in 101 games and made 632 receptions (targeted 944 times) for 8377 yards and 50 touchdowns.

Not bad for a guy that was a no-star recruit coming out of high school, received just one offer from an FBS school, and was taken in the sixth round!

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