The decision to move on from Brown after an ugly breakup means Smith-Schuster will step out of Brown’s shadow, becoming Ben Roethliberger’s No. 1 target. That’s a lot to ask of anyone, but Smith-Schuster, a second-round draft pick in 2017, may be ready after catching 111 passes for 1,246 yards and seven touchdowns last season. He also was a great story, riding his bike to work, reacting when said bike was stolen and celebrating a touchdown by chaining a stationary bike on the sideline.
Smith-Schuster could be bringing more than talent to a team that, despite being one of the NFL’s most popular, could use a little positivity after the way Brown’s relationship with the team fell apart. Brown was suspended for the Steelers’ Week 17 game after going AWOL, and Steelers General Manager Kevin Colbert did nothing to heal the relationship when he said that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was dealing with “52 kids” in the locker room.
“It’s all about respect,” Brown said of his issues with the team, even as Colbert walked back his “52 kids” comment. “Of course [Colbert] tried to clarify because, you know, he stated the truth and he’s going to backpedal on his words,” Brown told ESPN’s Jeff Darlington. “But what grown man is calling another grown man a kid? ‘Fifty-two kids.’ Like, you don’t have no respect for these guys? Like, these are the guys that go to work for you. And that’s what I’m telling you guys. . . . That’s my issue. You know what I’m saying? It’s all about respect. . . .
“Things [are] not getting better. They’re not changing. You know what I mean? He just stated it. There’s 52 kids, and it’s this guy [Roethlisberger]. Bro, it’s one team. . . . So that’s what it is, man. Just understanding truths.”
Colbert said he was referring to the fact that Roethlisberger has Super Bowl experience, but the team nonetheless was moving on, from both Brown and running back Le’Veon Bell. Or it was trying to anyway. As it became apparent that Brown was gone (bearing in mind that trades aren’t official until Wednesday and anything can happen), fans appeared unhappy to get so little in return for two stellar players, according to the NFL Network’s Aditi Kinkhabwala. The team reportedly got two draft picks for Brown (they must eat $21 million in dead money), and Bell is expected to become a free agent after sitting out last season.
Good thing Smith-Schuster says he’s ready, even if there are still a few days for Brown and the team to come to their senses.