“There is,” he said at the coaches’ breakfast with the media at the annual league meeting. “But that’s life and that’s business. I think we as an organization have moved on. I think they as professionals have moved on. And so we’re excited about the formulation of our team for ’19. Obviously we appreciate the contributions that they gave us when they were a part of us. But the reality is that they’re no longer that. And so we’re focused on the guys that we work with.”
The Steelers allowed Bell to leave in free agency after he sat out all of this past season in a contract stare-down with the team in which he refused to sign his franchise-player deal. They accommodated Brown’s wish to be traded after he became increasingly disgruntled in Pittsburgh, in part because of a clash with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
“It’s just unfortunate,” Tomlin said when asked about parting with players who had been developed by the organization. “I’ve got the perspective that I’ve been on the job for a number of years and I felt similar disappointment when we traded Santonio [Holmes] to the Jets after he was Super Bowl MVP, for example. So I have that perspective. Obviously they are quality players and they will be missed. But change is part of our business. We’re comfortable with the talent that we have and our plan to add to that talent and develop that talent. So we look forward to the challenges with the people that comprise our team now.”
Running back James Conner and wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster have become highly productive players and now are even more indispensable. The Steelers must hope the departures of Brown and Bell amount to addition by subtraction.
“We’ll see,” Tomlin said. “I know that we’ve got some plays that need to be made. And so somebody’s got to make them. I know that we had a Pro Bowl wide receiver that was on our team last year that’s still on our team. And we have a Pro Bowl running back that was on our team last year that’s still on our team. They’d better make plays. And we’d better acquire and develop people to a system into making plays.”
Tomlin called last season “a failure” for the Steelers, who missed the playoffs. But he said he does not accept criticism of Roethlisberger’s leadership style.
“I have no problem with his play or his leadership,” Tomlin said. “I’ve heard some of the scuttlebutt which you mention. I’m focused on the guys within our group and on our team. I think that’s what’s appropriate for me. I have no reaction to former Steelers and things of that nature. You know, we were a 9-6-1 football team last year. We all need to look in the mirror in terms of what we do and how we do it, starting with me. And so that’s the approach that I’m taking. That’s the approach that I’ll ask him to take, not in response to any criticism from the outside or anything of that nature, just doing what’s appropriate in terms of us being as good as we need to be.”
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