Bob Labriola

Bob Labriola of Steelers.Com and Steelers Digest has a regular question and answer session called “Asked and Answered” on the Steelers web site. Some of the questions are a bit simplistic, but others are very valid and interesting.

I thought it a good idea to put together on one page the questions that Steeler Nation will be interested in reading his response to as he is very knowledgable not only on the Steelers, but the NFL.

Naturally, you can go to the Steelers web site and sift through their pages and I encourage you to do that because some of the questions are very entertaining. I am just listing the questions about Bell and Brown.

Bruce Gray From Kingman, Az:
In regards to the Steelers and Le’Veon Bell, what are some important upcoming dates?

ANSWER: In terms of dates that already appear on the NFL calendar, I see four: Feb. 19 is the first day that teams can place the franchise or transition tag on players; March 5 is the deadline for teams to place the franchise or transition tag on players; March 11 is the day that agents can begin contract negotiations with players due to become free agents at the start of the new league year, and if Le’Veon Bell is going to be one of those guys who ends up signing a big contract early in free agency, I would foresee talks starting on this date; and then March 13 – at 4 p.m., to be exact – is the start of free agency for 2019.

There is one other potentially critical date not marked on the NFL calendar, and that’s the date when an NFL arbitrator ends up ruling on the amount of the transition tag should the Steelers elect to use it on Bell. Right now, there is disagreement between the NFL and the NFLPA over what that transition tag amount should be based on Bell sitting out the 2018 season while under the franchise tag. The league sees the number at around $9 million, and the union sees it at something around $14.5 million. That dispute is headed to arbitration, in my opinion, and the date a determination is made on that also could prove to be a significant one in this process.


Jim Jordan From Bloomington, Il:
In the Jan 15 edition of Asked and Answered, you wrote that the league thinks the amount of a Le’Veon Bell tag is $9 million and the union contends it’s closer to $14 million. I thought I read back when he didn’t sign the last tag that a third tag would put him at quarterback money, or somewhere in the $20 million range.

ANSWER: You have your tags confused. A third consecutive franchise tag would carry a tender in the amount of “upwards of $25 million,” according to NFL.com. What I wrote for the Jan 15 edition of Asked and Answered referred to the transition tag. The franchise tag and the transition tag are completely different, and they require completely different tender amounts.


Bill Poplarchik from Anchorage, Ak:
Will the Steelers use the transition tag on Le’Veon Bell, and is there a downside to doing this?

ANSWER: My sense is that this is going to come down to the outcome of what I see as an inevitable arbitration decision as to the amount of the transition tag tender on Le’Veon Bell. Because Bell sat out the entire 2018 season, the NFL believes the transition tag tender should be in the neighbourhood of $9 million, while the NFLPA believes it should be closer to $14.5 million. If it’s the lower number, I can see the Steelers using the transition tag. If it’s the higher number, I am less sure but not willing to dismiss the possibility. If the Steelers do put the transition tag on Bell and then they do not match the offer sheet he might sign, there would be no compensatory pick for losing Bell in the 2020 NFL Draft.


Darrell Grant From North Chesterfield, Va:
Will the Steelers receive a compensatory pick for Le’Veon Bell in the spring?

ANSWER: If Le’Veon Bell is not tagged and leaves the Steelers as an unrestricted free agent, any compensatory draft pick the Steelers would receive would come in 2020, not 2019.


Brian Morella From Poland, Oh:
If the Steelers transition Le’Veon Bell and match the contract and then trade him, does Bell’s signing bonus have any cap implications on the Steelers?

ANSWER: The way for the Steelers to avoid any salary cap implications and do what you describe would be to place the transition tag on Le’Veon Bell and then when he presents them an offer sheet from another team, you contact that team and tell them that in exchange for a draft pick – let’s just say a No. 2 for the sake of this discussion – that you won’t match the offer, and then don’t match the offer in exchange for the negotiated upon draft pick compensation. If it’s not executed that way, then it’s very possible there could be salary cap implications for the Steelers in that process.


Shawn Woods from Rapid City, SD:
The Steelers were not allowed to negotiate a new contract with Le’Veon Bell after a certain date in July. Now that the NFL season is over, can they begin those communications again?

ANSWER: Yes, that window re-opened once the 2018 season ended.


Tim Downey from Derry, Pa: If Steelers put the transition tag on Le’Veon Bell and then match the offer he receives from another team, does he have to sign with the Steelers in order to play in 2019?

ANSWER: In the situation you describe, and I will reiterate it here as part of the answer: If the Steelers place the transition tag on Le’Veon Bell, and then he goes and gets an offer from another team, signs that offer sheet and presents it to the Steelers, and then if the Steelers match that offer, then Bell would be considered by the rules of the Collective Bargaining Agreement to have been signed by the Steelers. Bell would be paid whatever the terms dictated by the offer sheet he signed, and the Steelers would be bound by the terms of that offer sheet because they chose to match it, and then Bell would be considered immediately as a player with a valid contract who would be required to attend all team activities, such as minicamp, training camp, etc.


Scott Daves from Bessemer City, NC:
I have heard a lot about the $21 million in dead cap money if Antonio Brown gets traded. Does that mean they simply cannot spend that money but keep it in the organization?

ANSWER: Look at it this way: Let’s pretend each team’s salary cap figure for 2019 turns out to be $121 million, for the sake of easy arithmetic. In that event, and if the Steelers had traded Antonio Brown, the Steelers would have a salary cap of $100 million for 2019. It’s not as though the Steelers have to cut a check and make a payment, but only that there would be less cash for them to spend on the other players on the roster.


Karl White From Crestline, Ca:
I have yet to get a clear explanation of how/why the Steelers would be on the hook for $21 million if they trade Antonio Brown. I get the Collective Bargaining Agreement has language in it to that effect, but as I don’t have a copy of the CBA with me, can you explain why if the Steelers, or any team, trade a player they do not also automatically trade the contract?

ANSWER: You answered your own question. The reason why “the Steelers, or any team, trade a player they do not also automatically trade the contract” is because “the Collective Bargaining Agreement has language in it to that effect.” Therefore, that’s the law of the NFL, and that’s why.


Michael Wolozyn From Oil City, Pa:
Just where is Antonio Brown in his current contract? Isn’t he still obligated to the Steelers, effectively giving them control over his immediate playing future? When does free agency come into the picture for him?

ANSWER: Antonio Brown’s current contract runs through the 2021 NFL season, which means he next would be eligible for free agency some time in March 2022, at which point he would be 34 years old going on 35 in July 2022. According to spotrac.com, Brown’s salaries over the three years remaining on his current contract total $36.425 million.


Tim Gaydosh from Mount Airy, Md: I thought a trade was up to the Steelers. What’s this talk about whether or not the Steelers gave Antonio Brown and his agent permission to talk to teams about a trade? Wouldn’t the Steelers be the ones doing that work?

ANSWER: Sometimes teams will grant permission to a player and his agent to do some of the legwork involved in finding a trading partner and getting some idea what that potential partner might be willing to offer in a trade. But the team that has the player under contract is in total control of whether the trade gets made, who the trading partner ultimately is, and what compensation is received in return for trading the player. Based on reports that the Steelers have not granted this permission, it’s logical to assume they have decided to do their own work with respect to this matter.


Aidan Maguire from Dundalk, Ireland: If a player demands/requests a trade, and they have a very substantial dead money cap hit, can the player be requested to cover some of the dead money cost so the team might facilitate the trade? I mean, can the Steelers ask Antonio Brown to cover some of his $21 million dead money cap hit if they do find a team willing to trade for him?

ANSWER: No. That would be against the terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement.


Mike Federico from Memphis, Tn: Let’s play the what-if game for a second: What if no trades for Antonio Brown materialize, and the Steelers refuse to release him, and he refuses to play, and he retires? What are the salary cap or other roster ramifications?

ANSWER: If Antonio Brown would announce his retirement in a few months because the Steelers don’t trade him or release him, the team most likely would put him on a reserve-retired list, which would allow them to retain his rights through the end of the contract he was under at the time of retirement. That prevents a player from “retiring” one offseason and then coming out of retirement the next offseason to play for a team of his choosing. As for the salary cap situation, a team is assessed the same dead-money charge whether a player is traded, is cut, or retires, and this provision is in the CBA to prevent a team from, say, giving a 39-year-old player a six-year, $50 million contract that includes a $25 million signing bonus despite knowing the guy is at the end of his career and set to retire.


David Harrigan from Hendersonville, Nc: With Antonio Brown wanting a trade, what happens if team refuses and tells him to play?

ANSWER: Then the Steelers would find themselves stuck with a disgruntled/disruptive player. As much as fans might like it to be true, a team cannot force a player to play and be happy/productive with that arrangement.


William Dowdell from Cocoa Beach, Fl: In some of the “stuff” I have read, the thinking was that the pick the Steelers would get for Antonio Brown if they trade him, would likely be in the 2020 draft. Is that the case and if so why?

ANSWER: I believe the most likely scenario is that any trade of Antonio Brown involving a draft pick(s), it would be in the 2019 draft.


Brian Boyce from Springboro, Pa: What happens to salary cap and the dead money issue if the Steelers are not able to negotiate an acceptable trade for Antonio Brown, and then Brown decides to sit out next season rather than play for the Steelers? However unlikely, what happens if Brown sits?

ANSWER: The difference between the Antonio Brown situation and the Le’Veon Bell situation is that Brown is under contract and Bell was not. If Brown simply decides not to show up, he would be subject to significant fines and the Steelers also could seek a repayment of some of the signing bonus he received when he signed his current contract back in February 2017.