STARKEY: Steelers need to show Antonio Brown the money

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (TNS)
  • Pittsburgh Steelers wideout Antonio Brown has one year left on his contract.
  • Brown has caught 481 passes over the past four years, most of any player in NFL history.
  • Despite sitting out the season finale, Brown finished second in the NFL in catches and TD catches.

I’ll be bluntly honest here: Antonio Brown deserves a massive new contract.

How any rational person could think otherwise is beyond me. Look at the production. Look at the work ethic. Look at the fact that unlike some of his teammates, Brown plays every game and passes every drug test.

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown wants to be a "Steeler for life."

Is he at times foolish, selfish and inconsiderate, to borrow his coach’s words?

Oh yes. He can be all that and more. He is a classic wide receiver diva, in love with his numbers almost as much as his smile. He “pouts” when he doesn’t get the ball, to borrow his quarterback’s word. He apparently needed sideline counseling during the AFC championship, and he broke team etiquette (do the Steelers have team etiquette?) by going live from the locker room after a playoff win, perhaps as part of his lucrative deal with Facebook.

But if that’s your argument against paying the man — that he’s selfish and overly dramatic — please tell me there’s more. Because that’s laughable when you consider Brown is absolutely not the team’s top drama king (did you hear the quarterback might retire?) and is not nearly as selfish as players who miss games either because they can’t find their way to a drug test (hello, Le’Veon) or put down the pipe (hi, Martavis).

I don’t think Brown ever showed up plowed on the South Side after a playoff win and got into it with a bouncer, either. His transgressions are harmless by comparison.

Now, if Brown feels he can get away with certain behaviors, it’s probably because he can. And I would ask: Is it possible players feel empowered to express themselves any way they please when they hear their quarterback, after a win that improves the team to 4-1, openly question the head coach’s practice methods?

Brown's history of excellence: When it comes to Brown’s actual resume, the pluses beat the minuses the way the New England Patriots beat the Steelers Sunday. So you go ahead and obsess over his iPhone habits and occasional temper tantrums. I’ll focus on the other side of the ledger, which in part reads like this:

• Essentially won the AFC North — and bailed out his quarterback — by scoring a super-human touchdown against Baltimore. Think people might have questioned why Ben Roethlisberger threw short of the goal line into traffic with seconds ticking away if Brown hadn’t busted through three players to score?

• Tortured the Miami Dolphins for two spectacular early touchdowns in the Steelers’ first home playoff win since 2010.

• Clinched the win at Kansas City by bursting free for a third-down catch.

• Caught 481 passes over the past four years, most of any player in NFL history over a four-year stretch.

• Started 63 of 64 regular-season games during that time, missing only the season finale this season because coach Mike Tomlin rested him.

• Finished second in the NFL in catches and touchdown catches this season and might have finished first in both had he played against the sorry Browns.

Tomlin, Big Ben weigh in: It’s true he had a slow night in Foxborough, but Brown became the object of Bill Belichick’s evil designs after Bell went down, and the Steelers had no other viable receiving option. That’s another reason to pay Brown, by the way: There is nobody dependable behind him, what with Sammie Coates’ 11 broken fingers and Bryant’s preference for pot over pigskin.

Tomlin made what one might deem a threat after the video incident, saying of Brown’s general behavior, “I think that’s why oftentimes you see great players move around from team to team.”

Yeah, well, Tomlin has another receiver who can’t stay clean, a running back who hasn’t started and finished the same season yet (not that Bell can help the injuries), a practice-squad player who keeps getting suspended, an assistant coach who can’t control himself and a quarterback who only gave the Tomlin-haters fodder by dropping his little “if there’s gonna be a next season” nugget Tuesday.

Now everybody’s wondering if Roethlisberger’s latest Shakespearean soliloquy was aimed at what he might perceive as Tomlin’s laissez-faire approach.

Roethlisberger was much clearer on something else. He said Brown’s production far outweighs anything else, and he’s right.

He outplayed his contract long ago: Brown has one year left on his contract, traditionally the time for the Steelers to re-sign a key player, and he outplayed that contract long ago, even though the team twice sweetened it. The parameters for a new deal were set in September 2015, when Julio Jones and A.J. Green re-upped.

Jones signed a five-year, $71.25 million deal with $47 million guaranteed and a $12 million signing bonus. Green got four years, $60 million with $32.8 million guaranteed and a $15 million signing bonus.If Brown is looking for Bill Gates money and won't take a penny less, we can have a different conversation. I'm thinking he would accept a reasonable deal, one that would take him into his early 30's. Based on what he's done these past four years, business should still be boomin.

Pay the man.