Brown would be due a $2.5 million roster bonus if he was still on the Steelers before that time. As for his $21 million cap hit, the Steelers would be able to recoup a good portion of that money:
ESPN's Adam Schefter added the Steelers are likely to restructure and extend Ben Roethlisberger's contract before the new league year, with the veteran quarterback entering the last year of his deal in 2019. Restructuring his deal could create additional cap space for the team, further mitigating Brown's cap hit.
Brown, 30, was excellent on the field in 2018, registering 104 receptions for 1,297 yards and a league-leading 15 touchdown catches. It was his sixth straight season with at least 100 receptions, 1,200 receiving yards and eight or more touchdowns, a remarkable string of elite production.
Off the field, however, issues have reportedly been simmering for years and perhaps came to a boil at the close of the season with Pittsburgh's playoff lives hanging in the balance.
Brown was suspended by the Steelers for the team's final game. He reportedly missed several practices before the Week 17 matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals following a dispute that Wednesday with Roethlisberger, per Gerry Dulac and Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
"Brown was disgusted and threw a football in Roethlisberger’s direction, several sources said. After that, Brown did not practice the rest of the week. According to a source, it was Brown’s decision not to practice with his teammates. He did not attend Saturday’s walk-through practice and skipped the Saturday night meeting at the team hotel—the latest in missed meetings by the All-Pro receiver. Brown was never on the field for the start of the game against the Bengals and left Heinz Field at halftime, according to multiple sources."
"I've been told in meetings [Roethlisberger] would take shots at AB. Like, 'I don't got to throw you the ball,' and things like that. Wednesday in practice, I heard he ran the wrong route, Big Ben threw the ball on the ground, said, 'Get him out of here. Get somebody else in there,' and that's when AB was at his boiling point and that's when he went off."
Regardless of what ultimately transpired, it appears Brown's time in Pittsburgh is coming to a close. There are arguments to be made that if there's an issue between Roethlisberger and Brown, the Steelers would be wiser to side with the elite wideout who is six years younger than Big Ben, especially since Brown has shown no signs of slowing down.
There's little doubt, however, that if the Steelers put Brown on the market, just about every NFL team would have at least passing interest in acquiring his services, depending on the asking price. The Steelers won't lack for suitors if they deal Brown, though it's often nearly impossible to replace players of his caliber.