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Steelers Extend Antonio Brown; Franchise Bell - This Is Sports Zone

The Pittsburgh Steelers started their offseason with a bang on Monday, by locking up two of their major offensive stars. They came to terms with Antonio Brown on a four-year, $68 million deal that makes him the highest-paid wide receiver in the NFL, and putting the franchise tag on their star running back Le’Veon Bell, effectively taking both off the free agent market.

Bell received the exclusive tender. With that designation, Bell can negotiate only with the Steelers and isn’t able to sign an offer sheet with another team. The sides have until July 15 at 4 p.m. ET to agree to a long-term contract. If no deal is reached, Bell would have to play the 2017 season under the franchise tender. The deadline for teams to use their franchise tag is Wednesday at 4 p.m. ET.

Bell, 25, stated his case as the game’s best running back during an explosive 2016 season in which he averaged 157 yards from scrimmage per game, the third-best clip ever for a running back. The Steelers rode Bell into the postseason. They fed him the ball 31.8 times per game rushing or receiving over the final eight games he finished — all wins, with two coming in the playoffs.

While racking up yards, Bell earned MVP consideration and national acclaim for a patient yet effective running style that showed that running backs don’t have to hit the hole right away. In the process, Bell broke Franco Harris’ regular-season and postseason single-game rushing records. Injuries have ended Bell’s past three seasons prematurely, including a groin injury suffered during the 36-17 AFC title game loss to the New England Patriots. In four NFL seasons, Bell has dealt with two knee injuries and two drug-related suspensions.

As for Brown, the Steelers have now tied up one of the best receivers in the league until after the 2021 season. He tweeted after he signed his new deal, which is front-loaded; Brown stands to make less money in the fourth and final year of the extension. The breakdown: Brown will make $18.5 million in the first three years of the contract and $12.5 million in the fourth, according to ESPN. The deal also includes a $19 million signing bonus.

The Steelers announced the extension as a five-year deal. Brown’s contract for the 2017 season, with a scheduled base salary of $4.7 million, stands as is. The Steelers had promised to rework Brown’s contract this offseason. They restructured his contract last August, advancing $4 million of his 2017 salary into his base salary for 2016. He had one year left on a five-year, $42 million contract he signed in 2012. He is the first player in Steelers history to finish with 1,000 receiving yards and 10 receiving touchdowns in three straight seasons.

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