Signing Antonio Brown to an Extension Was a No-Brainer for the Pittsburgh Steelers

Business will be boomin' for Antonio Brown and the Steelers through the 2021. Advanced statistics show why Pittsburgh made signing the wideout to an extension a priority.

The term GOAT (Greatest of All-Time) is thrown around too loosely nowadays. Check Twitter on a Sunday during NFL season and you will see tweets exclaiming that players such as Houston Texans tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz is the GOAT. It's all in good fun and they can be quite enjoyable, but the term can be used for more deserving players like Tom Brady, too.

The term has also been thrown around with regard to Pittsburgh Steelers wideout Antonio Brown. On Monday evening, the Steelers reached an agreement with Brown on a contract extension to keep him on the team through 2021. While he may not be the greatest wide receiver ever, he certainly can make the case for being the best wide receiver in Steelers history.

Generational Gap

We can't go any further without mentioning that Pittsburgh has two wide receivers in the Hall of Fame. Lynn Swann and John Stallworth played for the Steelers through parts of the '70s and '80s, helping them win four Super Bowls.

While these two are regarded by many as the best in franchise history, their stats just don't hold up. It's not their fault. The NFL is a completely different animal than it was decades ago.

Receptions Receiving Yards Receiving Touchdowns Seasons Played
Antonio Brown 632 8,377 50 7
Lynn Swann 336 5,462 51 9
John Stallworth 537 8,723 63 14

Sadly, there is no good way to compare players across different generations. There's no telling how successful Brown would have been playing with the Steelers in the '70s, nor is there a way to see how Swann or Stallworth would have performed with Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback.

Brown's current pace could have him surpassing Swann and Stallworth in just about every receiving category by the end of 2017, and he only trails Stallworth and Hines Ward for the franchise record in receiving yards.

Expecting the Net Expected

Net Expected Points (NEP) is a numberFire metric goes back to the year 2000. We can turn to NEP because it tells us how many real points a player adds or loses for their team.

For this breakdown, stats were taken from every Steelers wide receiver who played at least four seasons with the team since NEP tracking began. This first graph charts out success based on Reception NEP per Target, which takes the career total score for Reception NEP and then dividing it by career targets.

Brown finished third in this category, but it is worth noting he had many more targets than Mike Wallace and Santonio Holmes. In fact, Brown has more targets than Wallace and Holmes had combined in their tenures with the Steelers.

The high amount of targets also hurt Ward's score. Anyone who has watched these players knows Markus Wheaton and Ward aren't comparable. It's also worth noting that Ward's career began in 1998, so his first two seasons were not calculated into these statistics.

The next stat we looked at was catch rate, which is the amount of career receptions divided by the amount of career targets.

Brown finishing first in this category isn't much of a surprise because he, along with Ward, likely own the best hands of any Steelers wideout.

Check out this catch Brown made during the 2015 season that illustrates his catching prowess. On a pass that could have easily been picked off, Brown turns, rips the ball from Malcolm Butler's reach and escapes for a first down.

Follow the Leader

Ward is the all-time Steelers leader in many receiving categories, including receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns. How does Brown match up?

On a per-target-basis, Brown outperformed Ward. Both players played a similar style, but Brown has become more of a big-play threat than Ward, who was more of a possession receiver during the majority of his long career.

But even the sure-handed Ward had a slightly lower catch rate than Brown.

Business Will Be Boomin' Through 2021

Brown has set many records in his first seven NFL seasons. Per the Steelers official website, he's racked up the most receptions for any player in their first six seasons, became the first player to record 125-plus receptions in back-to-back seasons, and also became the second player in NFL history -- only trailing Calvin Johnson -- to have back-to-back seasons of 1,600-plus receiving yards.

Brown will be 29 years old when the 2017 season starts, but he should still have several good years left in the tank. While some Steelers fans have complained about Brown's Facebook Live mistake or that he takes too many taunting penalties, the numbers indicate fans should just relax and enjoy these next few seasons. They may never see a Steelers wideout as talented as Brown again in their lifetime.