For the owner of the Steelers, picturing Antonio Brown back on his squad is far from as easy as 1-2-3, and in fact it could be more like, “AB, see ya.”
Speaking Thursday, Art Rooney II claimed that his team was “not going to release” the disgruntled wide receiver, but he noted that “all other options are on the table.” Brown was benched for Pittsburgh’s season finale after he skipped several practices and team meetings that week, following a dispute with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, and there were conflicting reports about whether the seven-time Pro Bowler had asked for a trade.
Brown also skipped the Steelers’ exit meetings the day after their season ended, and team officials have reportedly had no contact with him since, although he did make an appearance on national TV on the debut episode of “The Masked Singer.” (It was taped this past summer.) Saying his front office still had some time to figure out what to do about Brown, 30, Rooney told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “We’ll see how things play out. Maybe he decides to come talk to us some day, and we learn more about where he is.”
Asked by the newspaper whether it would be easy or difficult to see Brown participating in the Steelers’ training camp come July, Rooney replied, “As we sit here today, it’s hard to envision that. But there’s no sense on closing the door on anything today. There’s snow on the ground. We don’t have to make those decisions right now.”
“Whether the situation can be reconciled and have him back on the team next year, we’re a long way away from thinking that can happen,” the 66-year-old owner added. “We’re not closing the door on anything at this point.”
Shortly after Rooney’s comments were published, Brown posted a photo to social media showing himself and the owner shaking hands in February 2017, when he signed a contract extension. The wide receiver offered no comment other than a cryptic reference to his oft-used catchphrase, “Business is boomin’.”
If the Steelers decide to trade Brown, they almost certainly would find interest among at least a few other teams, despite his recent antics and some questionable behavior in the past. In his ninth season since being a sixth-round pick by Pittsburgh in 2010, the Central Michigan product caught 104 passes for 1,297 yards while leading the NFL with 15 touchdown receptions. Over the previous four seasons, in which Brown was named first-team all-pro every year, he led the league twice each in receptions and receiving yardage.
One issue for the Steelers may be Brown’s contract, which calls for him to count $22,165,000 against the salary cap in 2019. If he’s traded, the team would still take a cap hit of $21,120,000 next season, meaning that there would be very little financial incentive to do so.
Still, other considerations, such as team chemistry — the receiver’s repeated no-shows were met with some reported expressions of frustration in Pittsburgh’s locker room — and a desire to make the point that certain actions won’t be tolerated, even from star players, could take precedence.
Rooney said that salary-cap concerns would not “box us into anything,” adding, “If we decide something has to be done, we’ll figure out how to deal with that.”
Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin had sounded fed up with Brown when he spoke with reporters last week, saying, “I’m open to change, because I’m not open to doing this again next year.” In addition to the controversy surrounding the receiver, which included him responding to criticism from former Steeler Ryan Clark by calling the ex-safety an “Uncle Tom,” Pittsburgh endured a turbulent campaign that began with star running back Le’Veon Bell’s season-long holdout and ended with the team coming agonizingly close to making the playoffs, only to miss them for the first time since 2013.
“When you lack success, when you fail, change is a part of it,” Tomlin said last week. “We talk about it.”
“I’m not going to speculate on trades and things of that nature,” the coach added at the time. “I’m not going to speculate in terms of where discipline might go. Just know it is going to be addressed and will be addressed, and it needs to be addressed, for obvious reasons.”
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