After nine stellar seasons, Antonio Brown and the Pittsburgh Steelers could be headed for an ugly divorce following a litany of the receiver’s antics.
Everybody has a breaking point. The Steelers might have reached theirs with Antonio Brown.
Brown, 30, reportedly went nuclear this past week during preparations for the Bengals. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Brown had an altercation on Wednesday with an unspecified player — it has been reported elsewhere the player was Ben Roethlisberger — before skipping the following two practices and a Saturday meeting. On Sunday, Brown expected to play but was made inactive, resulting in him leaving Heinz Field at halftime.
All of this culminates what has been an impossibly ugly year for the future Hall of Famer. Brown has been involved in a bevy of unseemly incidents ranging from allegedly throwing furniture out off a 14th floor balcony and being pulled over for driving 100 MPH in a residential area, to asking for a trade via Twitter in September and threatening an ESPN writer.
With all this nonsense as a backdrop, the Steelers have no choice but to move on.
Brown has been incredibly productive over his nine seasons in Pittsburgh. The seven-time Pro Bowler has six consecutive years of at least 101 catches and 1,200 yards.
However, JuJu Smith-Schuster has usurped him as the top dog in Pittsburgh, something showcased by the stats and painfully hammered home when the players voted him as the team’s MVP on Thursday.
Consider that for a moment. The Steelers didn’t vote Brown and his 15 touchdowns as the MVP. They didn’t vote Roethlisberger and his 5,100 passing yards as the MVP. They voted for a second-year receiver who while great, is still earning his stripes.
The message is undeniable: we’re tired of the circus that comes with Brown and Big Ben.
Pittsburgh has long been a drama club in cleats. Le’Veon Bell, Mike Pouncey, James Harrison, Roethlisberger and Brown have each played leading roles at one time or another. The walls finally came crashing down this year. Pittsburgh was a Super Bowl favorite at 7-2-1 with December fast approaching. Now the Steelers are home for January, falling to reach the postseason.
It’s an impossible spot in some regards for Pittsburgh. No answer is easy, and certainly all are uncomfortable. Brown has three years and $60 million left on his contract. With a 2019 cap hit of $22.165 million, the Steelers would only recoup $1.045 million should they release him. The same financials would be applied to a trade as well, but in that case, Pittsburgh would at least be bringing in assets to offset the steep dead money.
The picture isn’t much better in 2020, with another $14.080 million in dead space against roughly $4 million in savings. Of course, the Steelers knew they ran this risk when they agreed to a restructure in March, pushing more money down the road.
As to which teams might trade for Brown, there are always going to be suitors for a guaranteed 100 receptions, 1,200 yards and 10 touchdowns.
The Oakland Raiders immediately jump to mind as an interested party. Oakland has plenty of cap space, a crushing need for playmakers and three first-round picks in their arsenal. Would new general manager Mike Mayock be willing to explore a trade?
Regardless, it seems Pittsburgh has run out of real estate to backpedal on. Brown reportedly clashed with the quarterback, missed meetings, skipped practices and left the stadium during a must-win game. Combined with all his other off-field problems, it’s virtually impossible to see him returning to Pittsburgh for the start of the offseason program.
Endings are usually messy. This one will be no different.