If it was not already clear from all the reports published by both the national and local media over the past few weeks - Antonio Brown is the devil. An that honor was once the sole preserve of Le’Veon Bell around Pittsburgh, now appears to belong to AB.
In light of his end of season dramatics, that is any easy storyline to get on board with and it is impossible to offer any reasonable defense of Brown’s actions adequately excusing what he did. However, barring a number high draft picks in return for a trade, there can be little question that the Pittsburgh Steelers will be better served with him on the roster when the 2019 regular season begins.
An agreement to continue their working relationship would naturally need to come with certain assurances on the part of Brown, most likely requiring a lengthy conversation with senior management to convince them of his sincerity. But regardless if he is to remain with the team, a change in behaviour cannot simply be limited to AB next season.
Continuing to overlook the negative impact Ben Roethlisberger has on team chemistry is not helping this franchise, a trend that was initially born out of his actions away from the field. As the years have progressed, it has often been his mouth that has caused the team more harm than anything else he has done, and 2018 was a vintage season in that regard.
It is no secret that Roethlisberger struggled with the mantle of leadership early on in his career and that his ego was allowed to grow unchecked after winning his first Super Bowl. More than enough has been written over the years detailing the legal issues Big Ben became embroiled in and the suspension that followed in 2010.
As a young quarterback, he would clash with veteran wide receiver Hines Ward and anger his coach with misleading injury reports, later acknowledging he had been far from the perfect teammate in an article by Dan Pompei of Bleacher Report.
“I’d be the first to admit I wasn’t a good teammate early in my career. There are some guys who had animosity towards me, and probably rightfully so. I probably could have helped that by being a humble guy who was the best teammate I could be.”
Issues Emmanuel Sanders would once again allude to in a recent television appearance aired over the weeked.
But as much as that article from 2015 would suggest Roethlisberger was a changed man, it is clear from some aspect of his behavior in 2018 that Big Ben is far from the finished product.
From making the team’s third round draft pick feel as unwelcome as possible just days after he was selected, to missing OTA’s because of a family holiday while rest of the team trained (with the exception of Brown), Roethlisberger was far from the leader you would expect for a player of his stature.
Critical of Le’Veon Bell for missing OTA’s in 2017, Big Ben’s decision to take a vacation just as they begun in June was not only hypocritical, but also directly responsible for the absence of AB. With Brown’s sudden disappearance starting the day after Roethlisberger missed his first day of practice, it was appeared obvious he believed that what was acceptable for his quarterback was more than good enough for him.
James Washington was the latest in a long list of wide receivers to be thrown under the bus by Roethlisberger this year, joining names like Martavis Bryant, Sammie Coates, Cobi Hamilton and of course Brown in that regard over the past few seasons alone.
In the six years since he started his weekly radio show, it has become a must listen to event more for the possibility that Big Ben will say something inappropriate than any of the other insights he will offer. And while he is far from the only quarterback in the league to have his own show, he is undeniably the only one who continually makes national headlines because of it.
Given far too much leeway by the front office both on and off the field, it would be fair to say that Roethlisberger does not always set the best example for his younger teammates. Now seemingly provided a sympathetic offensive coordinator willing to let him throw the ball at will, despite leading the NFL in interceptions, it would be understandable if some of his teammates thought he was getting special treatment.
While some of his interception were directly responsible for a number of the losses the Steelers suffered in 2018, no one on the coaching staff did anything but support him publicly. A policy followed by the rest of the players on the roster. But when the shoe was on the other foot, Roethlisberger was not always so forgiving.
There can be no denying that Big Ben can be as critical of himself in public as he is on others, but he is also willing to give himself a break at the expense of others. It was interesting to note that of all the people he blamed for his game clinching interception against the Denver Broncos, the list somehow included Brown, Ramon Foster and Randy Fichtner and then him.
If the Steelers are to offer Roethlisberger an extension during the offseason, the two sides need to have a serious conversation about what they expect from a team leader going forward. In the twilight of his career, Big Ben needs to make the most of the of talent around him if he wants to have any hope of adding a third Super Bowl title to his resume, and it can only be hoped that he can be made to see that his style of leadership is not exactly working with all of his teammates.
Roethlisberger may believe in his right to criticise his teammates publicly, but it is clear from the responses of many former and current players around the league that they would not accept his tough-love approach. With that in mind, It should perhaps come as no surprise to learn that Cam Newton was the only quarterback NFL players would least like to have as a teammate than Big Ben, according to a poll conducted by The Athletic of 85 defensive players from 25 different teams.
Unlike Brown, nothing Roethlisberger did this season year left him a mountain to climb in terms of repairing any relationships with his team, but if he could at least be convinced to give up his radio show and keep his remarks in house, his teammates would be sure to welcome it.