For those of us who believed there was no chance the Pittsburgh Steelers could seriously entertain the idea of trading Antonio Brown this offseason due in large part to the huge salary cap hit that would accompany it, the words of team president Art Rooney II on Thursday put paid to those notions.
Speaking publicly for the first time since the 2018 season ended, Rooney opened up to Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about the team’s plans for their troubled wide receiver. And while he would make it clear that an outright release was out of the question, he did suggest that all other options were on the table. Stopping short of saying that the Steelers were exploring trade options, the Steelers president certainly did not rule it out.
“There’s not much we can do right now; we have time to make a decision. We’ll look at all the options. We’re not going to release him, that’s not on the table. But I will say all other options are on the table.”
“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. We’re not closing the door on anything at this point.”
“I’m not going to use those words [trade]. All options are on the table. We have two months to go before we can do anything. There’s no sense making the decision now. 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. We’ll see.”
Most notably, he pointed out that the salary cap ramifications would not be a overriding factor in the team’s decision.
“That has to be taken into consideration, but, as I sit here today, I’m not going to say that’s going to box us into anything. If we decide something has to be done, we’ll figure out how to deal with that.”
Although trading Brown would create $1.045 million in additional salary cap space, it would also leave Pittsburgh will $21,120,000 in dead money to account for in 2019 - an absurd figure to deal with unless the return from trading him warrants it. However in this instance, it appears the financial implications of such a move will take a back set to team chemistry, with Rooney suggesting the opinion of key veteran players will play a significant part in the Steelers’ final decision.
“That’s one of the questions we have to answer — whether we can get to a point where we all feel good about him being on the roster next year. We have a way to go before we feel good about that.”
When asked by Dulac if he could envisage Brown on the field at training camp come July, Rooney’s response may have been the most damning part of the interview.
“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.”
With no team able to officially complete any trades until the new league year begins on March 13, Pittsburgh will have plenty of time to work out what they are going to do with their star receiver. But without some gesture on Brown’s part to mend his relationship with the team, it sounds looks he could well be headed towards a messy divorce with the Steelers.
Within an hour of this report from Dulac being published, Brown had taken to Instagram to post a response, of sorts. Next to a picture of him shaking hands with Rooney, taken on the day his signed his record breaking contract with the Steelers in 2017 I believe, Brown added the three words “Good Business #Boomin”.
What that means is anyone’s guess, but there are sure to be more cryptic posts from Brown in the coming weeks. This saga is already developing something of a Le’Veon Bell feel to it.