We may never know if the league honestly considered removing a draft pick from the Steelers as punishment for head coach Mike Tomlin interfering with a play last season.
In the end, if this was the league's intent all along - a looming punishment similar to Ben Roethlisberger's six-game suspension that could be reduced to four games in 2010 - we'll never know. But the right thing happened in the end. This was an individual's mistake, not a team's coordinated plan of misconduct.
This will no doubt hang over Tomlin's head, reduced pick or not, certainly from his detractors and opposing fans. It's fair to say he deserves the criticism - intended or not, he screwed up, big time, on national television, in a game the Steelers should have won. That loss was one of many losses that, all things being equal, would have put the Steelers in the post-season. But he did lose, and it was the second straight season without the playoffs. The pick issue made the matter worse over the last three and a half months.
It's over, but it'll never be over. All this really does is bring the conversation back into the critical arena regarding Tomlin's decisions, mistakes, errors and lapses of judgment. The Ravens game is rife for savagery over his lack of awareness (or worse). The Packers game in Week 16 brought out one of the more curious decisions, electing to score a touchdown on the team's final drive, as opposed to kneeling down, burning the Packers timeouts and kicking a field goal, leaving them just seconds on the clock.
If not for allegations of officiating errors, and a special teams gaffe on the kick return, Green Bay might have had two plays from their 6-yard line with a chance to tie.
It's not just about him being on the field. It's about the team that's on the field. And that's the heart of the resentment fans have burning inside them now. The Tomlin Two-Step may be the headline but the story below it is getting less appealing, and even further away from an AFC Championship game three seasons ago.