Silencing The “Paying For Past Production” Crowd Regarding AB’s Contract

In a week full of headlining material, there is no bigger headline than the Pittsburgh Steelers inking wide receiver Antonio Brown to a 4-year, 68 million dollar contract extension. It is not only a contract that sees Brown become the highest paid receiver in NFL history but also keeps him in Pittsburgh for the next five seasons. Handing the accolade of highest-paid receiver in NFL history to Brown is the result of confidence in his future and success in year’s past, the latter being a major point of controversy in Pittsburgh.

A contract should never be solely based upon paying for past production, but many in Pittsburgh believe this was exactly what happened during negotiations with Brown. The Steelers front office would tell you different, reasoning that they believe the wide receiver can continue to lead the NFL in receiving categories moving forward. And while some of the fan base may not be on the front office’s side, history is.

Brown’s contract runs from his age 29 to 33 seasons, and history tells us that this is not an age period in which a receiver is expected to decline. Using Brown’s 2016 season as a template, history can tell us how likely it is for a receiver in the age bracket of 29-33 to replicate his performance in 2016. I chose 2016 as the template because it was a season that saw Brown rank second in receptions, fifth in receiving yards and second in receiving touchdowns despite sitting a game and being the Steelers only legitimate receiving threat.

Since Brown amassed 1284 receiving yards last season, 1200 yards seems like an appropriate starting point for my research. Here is what I found when looking for receivers aged 29-33 who have had over 1200 or more receiving yards in a season.

  • 44 receivers have had at least one season with 1200+ receiving yards
  • 19 receivers have had two or more seasons with 1200+ receiving yards
  • 9 receivers have had three or more seasons with 1200+ receiving yards
  • 1 receiver (Jerry Rice) has had 1200+ receiving yards in every season (5) from age 29 to 33

Moving on to receptions next, Brown tallied 106 receptions last year, so I shall leave the benchmark at 106 receptions for the research. Here’s what history tells me about receivers aged 29-33 recording 106 or more receptions.

  • 15 receivers have had at least one season with 106+ receptions
  • 7 receivers have had at least two seasons with 106+ receptions

The final part of my research will look at Brown’s touchdown totals. Brown scored 12 touchdowns last season but the mark I am most interested in researching is 10 touchdowns. If Brown can reach double digit touchdowns, whether it be 10, 12 or more throughout his late twenties and early thirties, it will be hard to build a case against him. Here’s what history told me for Brown’s chances of scoring double digit touchdowns throughout his age 29-33 seasons.

  • 46 receivers have had at least one season with 10+ touchdowns
  • 12 receivers have had at least two seasons with 10+ touchdowns
  • 5 receivers have had at least three seasons with 10+ touchdowns
  • 3 receivers have had at least four seasons with 10+ touchdowns
  • 2 receivers (Jerry Rice & Marvin Harrison) have had 10+ touchdowns in every season from age 29 to 33

With all the data compiled, perhaps now it is time to come to a fair conclusion. Is it likely that Brown surpasses 2000 yards receiving in a season during his time remaining as a Steeler? Probably not, but if there is a receiver capable of doing it, Brown is one of them. Is it more likely that Brown continues to have highly productive seasons that place him at the top of the charts? The research says yes, it is very likely that Brown can continue to perform at a high level of success. Not only does the Steelers front office have the confidence in Brown replicating his success, but history does as well and that should be enough to make a believer out of anyone.

About the Author

Daniel Valente

Steelers fan from birth, spending majority of my free time looking up statistics. Had the honor of meeting Mike Vanderjagt shortly after his infamous missed field goal in the 2005 Divisional Round. Currently pursuing a Journalism degree. Follow me on Twitter @StatsGuyDaniel

  • Rene Gonzalez

    Great article, thanks! I believed he would continue to play at a high level for, at the very least, the next three years, but seeing what’s happened through history sure is reasuring.

  • WreckIess

    Nice article. This is why I hate the assumption that there’s a cliff waiting for every player right after their 30th birthday because for one, it’s typical cliche, lazy analysis and two it completely ignores what they’re doing on the field now and how that projects to the future.

  • Only other common denominator with guys like Jerry Rice and Marvin Harrison is that they both played. For some good QBs in those years. I think as long as Ben Is slinging it, AB will remain near the top.

  • kdubs412

    Couple of questions about this:

    1. For the samples for each of these, are you using players who had a 1200 yard season prior to turning 29 or after (brown was 28 all

  • Daniel Valente

    Players who have achieved those statistical numbers from age 29-33 not prior.

    Based on Brown’s body of work, I would bet on him being in that 20% success rate. And until I am shown that Brown can’t play at that level I will continue betting on him. Just a different outlook rather than “Once a player hits 30, its downhill from there” pessimism.

  • falconsaftey43

    Yes, it’s hard to predict Browns future stats, because frankly his statistical peer group for his career thus far is like 2-3 guys. I think the overall idea is that guys have been very productive from ages 29-33 (not many, but it has been done) so it give credit to the idea that Brown can also achieve it. If the data showed no WR had produced much after age 29, it’d be pretty scary. No one knows what will happen with AB in the future though. I will say that 5 guys have averaged 1200 yards from age 29-33. I think Brown can make it 6.

  • RickM

    What does “or more” mean in your yardage stats. Can you let us know how many receivers in this age bracket had exactly 1 of the 5 seasons with 1,200+ yards receiving? How many had 2 of 5 seasons with 1,200+ yards receiving? Etc. My assumption is 44 had only one season, 19 had only two seasons, 9 had exactly three seasons and only 1 had all 5 seasons (Rice). But the “or more” is confusing.

    If so, the stats show the contract was likely not good value with 63 of the 73 receivers having over 1,200 yards in only 1 or 2 of the five seasons. We will need Brown to be a Jerry Rice clone, which is not out of the realm of the possible.

  • kdubs412

    OK, well that’s totally reasonable but also entirely subjective. All of the data you’re presenting actually creates a pretty strong argument that, when strictly looking at things as a matter of percentages, Brown probably won’t continue to be a league leader much longer, so I don’t agree that this silences the critics who say Brown’s production will decline over the course of his new contract; if anything it strengthens their case.

  • Daniel Valente

    44 is the total number of receivers who have had 1200 yards receiving from age 29-33. If you are looking for exact numbers of receivers aged 29-33
    1 receiver had over 1200 for 5 straight seasons
    0 receivers had over 1200 for 4 seasons
    8 receivers had over 1200 for 3 seasons
    10 receivers had over 1200 for 2 seasons
    25 receivers had over 1200 for 1 season

  • RickM

    Thanks for the clarification. Much appreciated. That makes it a little better. We still have only 1 of 44 with more than 3 of 5 seasons. But AB is special and hopefully he can continue to produce at 32 and 33.

  • RickM

    It isn’t lazy analysis to expect a decline in the latter years of Browns’s contract. It’s factual as the stats show. The lazy analysis (or no analysis) is taking the 28-year-old production and just assuming it will be relevant at 31, 32 or 33. As these stats show, 98% of the time the yardage at 28 cannot be expected at 32 and 33. That is not to say it can’t happen, Brown could indeed follow Rice’s path. But statistically it’s highly unlikely.

    I get that you will argue. But I will take stats for 44 comparably-aged receivers over guesswork.

  • WreckIess

    That’s not what I said. I said a cliff not a decline. Two different concepts.

  • RickM

    I don’t think anyone is suggesting a cliff. Almost everyone expects Brown to be productive, but it’s whether he is $17M productive at age 32 and 33. And that one is debatable. Hopefully he can provide numbers like Larry Fitzgerald did this year.

  • John Phillips

    Hate to say it but Julio is the best; AB is a distant second.
    Julio did NOT disappear against the Pats, no “InstantChat.”, no fugging end zone interactions, etc.

  • WreckIess

    It’s debatable, but if the only reason someone would be projecting a decline in his stats is strictly because he’s getting older, that’s lazy. His game is the type of game that can still be effective later in his career because he isn’t over reliant on skills that can diminish. The whole basis behind the “football players after 30” curse is not only pretty arbitrary, but it’s based on concepts from decades ago and it ignores so many other factors that lead to a decline. It implies that the major factor that caused players to fall of was age which isn’t always true and for the most part it’s lazy to assume so.

  • RickM

    Frankly, there’s not much I can say to your ‘logic’. Other than it runs contrary to the stats presented in this article and everything known within the NFL. Speed at WR and CB is critical to success. Everyone knows that productivity suffers as speed declines at these positions. And a guy at 32 or 33 will not have the same speed as a guy at 28.

    I don’t have trouble with you feeling Brown can still be very effective at 32 or 33. Rice was and Fitzgerald has been, although he has been moved to slot. But suggesting people are being lazy by thinking a loss of speed will occur and hurt Brown’s production – that’s not lazy, it’s real in almost uall cases. Using your logic, we should be rushing to sign Revis because his skill set more than offsets any loss of speed he has suffered. Contrary to what to suggest, speed allows receivers to separate from CB’s and vice-versa. You lose speed, you lose some ability to separate from the younger, faster CB’s. That’s the reality of the NFL. It’s not a lazy assumption.

  • falconsaftey43

    He also had the entire offensive skill positions around him healthy (till Coleman left). Jones in SB was 4 for 87 0 TDs, Brown was 7 for 77 0 TDs. Not really that different. Their career per game stats are all really close, difference is Jones has missed quite a few games with injury. Not sure you can call it a distant second. It’s close, no matter who you like better.

  • WreckIess

    If you can run a route with the precision the Antonio Brown can you can deal with a hit to you speed. Will he be able to, that’s a whole different debate, but I’m saying he has given himself the tools to endure. That’s why being a technician is all about. Technique over a natural skill set. That’s how he got to where he is now. He’s never been a speedy guy, but he attention to detail wins him his match ups.

    It’s lazy to only look at one factor. When you’re dealing with something as complex as the human body and the only thing you look at to determine how it will perform is age, you’re using lazy analysis. I don’t know how far back he went back, but considering the fact that Rice was one of the candidates you have to assume a good portion of these players are from the early 90s to early 2000s and there are so many more ways to take care of your body now than there were then. So using those aging standards can leave you with outdated data.

    Like I said, you can’t ignore the other factors. You have to look at how a player’s game can react to aging(His type of game does well with age). You have to look at injury history(He doesn’t really have one, but if he deals with a serious injury obviously that’ll change my opinion). You have to look at reasons other than age as to why some of these players slowed down. Revis had a bad knee injury and some hamstring issues so no I’m not going to assume he can still play. The same way I won’t assume Bell will still be a beast when he gets older because he plays a physical position and he’s dealt with some injuries.

    I know this was a longer comment, but all I’m saying is when it comes to something like this you have to look at it from multiple angles because looking at it from one point of view is lazy.

  • kdubs412

    The whole point of this article is that there is statistical evidence to “silence” the critics of the brown deal and prove he will most likely still be productive. The article actually shows the exact opposite and that, statistically, concerns are well founded historically for players who produced numbers similar to Brown’s last season. You can believe his game is different and project that he’ll age well, but it’s not based in anything outside of your evaluation of his skills and belief in his durability. That’s fine, but if you’re gonna argue that you shouldn’t present it the way this article does, claiming there is statistical data that backs up your belief when it actually does the exact opposite. Pointing out that the data actually doesn’t support the idea brown will maintain elite productivity isn’t “lazy”, it’s just one piece of evidence that should be considered when evaluating his chances of longterm success over the course of a long, very expensive extension.

  • Geoffrey Benedict

    Since 2000 there have been 105 1000 yard seasons by players 30 or older. That’s over 6 each year on average.

    Just in the last 3 years it has been done 16 times.

    Antonio Brown is likely to join the ranks of players like Marvin Harrison, Donald Driver, Derrick Mason and Jimmy Smith, who all recorded 5 seasons of 1000 yards after they turned 30.

    He’ll be worth it, and if he suddenly does hit a wall and suck, it won’t be too bad to get out from under his contract.

  • LucasY59

    I dont think his play will drop off that bad, so I think he deserved the contract and will put up #s to earn it, but I also think part of what got him paid was his past production (and being underpaid the last 4 yrs for those kind of stats) looking at the overall career/pay/production I think the Steelers have gotten a good deal (even if he does decline some)

  • Ryan Alderman

    I think it would be unfair to think that speed does not play a large role in Brown’s overall game.

  • Bill

    If you look at what the data says graphically, it has a very steep downward curve and that does not support the conclusions reached in this article. Trends not numbers give a more accurate projection into the future. Perhaps looking at sets of data of total receptions-yards-touchdowns versus the four years might give a different and more revealing picture. Look at it this way: If the first example of receiving yards was an investment firms performance and you were were looking to invest during year three, would you hire them based on the data of years one and two? I hope not!