Hall of Famer
Antonio Brown makes most of Mike Wallace's departure
Steelers receiver Antonio Brown plans to have former teammate Mike Wallace over to his house Saturday night to relive some memories before their teams meet Sunday in Pittsburgh.
The two have stayed in touch since Wallace's departure, which has been a win-win so far: more balls for Brown and a lot more money for Wallace, who signed a five-year, $60 million contract that included $30 million guaranteed with the Miami Dolphins in March.
"When you play with a person, spend so much time for them and you have a love for their family, you go to Pro Bowls together, you wish each other the best," Brown told USA TODAY Sports by phone this week. "I'm happy that he's happy. I'm sure he's happy that I'm happy."
Brown, 25, has plenty of reasons to feel that way. He's in sound financial shape himself, having signed a five-year, $42.5 million contract in July 2012. And he's on his way to smashing career highs with an NFL-best 85 catches for 1,103 yards and six touchdowns in 12 games.
"I knew (Wallace's exit) would lead to a lot more responsibility and a lot more opportunity to me, a lot more emphasis on my play, being all this talk about, 'Is Brown really this? Or is he really that?'" Brown said. "I just was looking forward for the opportunity to earn the respect of the guys in the locker room, the coaches and obviously the organization."
He has done that with help from coordinator Todd Haley, whom Brown once angrily confronted on the sideline during an 0-4 start but now credits for "doing a great job lately in mixing it up, putting me in different alignments so they can't get a bead on where I'm at and double me."
Haley originally earmarked Brown for the "Z" receiver position in 2012 before flopping him and Wallace at midseason, allowing Brown to work the backside and get in rhythm with veteran quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. With Wallace gone, that rhythm only has increased.
"Being on my game," Brown said, "being stronger, being in better shape, obviously playing for a couple years, understanding coverages, the concepts, being on the same page with our quarterback – all those things tally in to where I'm at right now."
Wallace, 27, is still finding his place with the Dolphins, who enter Sunday tied for the last AFC playoff seed a 6-6, one game ahead of the 5-7 Steelers. His speed makes an impact even without the ball, but his numbers aren't jaw-dropping: 56 catches for 743 yards and three touchdowns.
In his fourth season, Brown is two years younger than Wallace and under contract through 2017. He's on the books for relatively modest base salaries of $6 million the next two years and could be in line for a raise at some point. Is a comparable payday to his old friend's on Brown's mind?
"Not at all, man," Brown said, laughing. "Your focus can never be about money in this game. If the money's going to come, it's going to come.
"My focus right now is to be the best in the world and make sure I can help my team win ballgames and keep the respect of the guys in the locker room. If you do those things and focus in the right areas, the blessings will come."