If you are like me, you have been looking forward to the offseason in a way. No, not hoping for the Pittsburgh Steelers’ season to end prematurely, but in hopes of the constant drama to die down.
After the Week 17 fall out between Antonio Brown and the organization, the following days/weeks were nothing but speculation, questionable investigative reporting and social media use over blown to the maximum. We here at this fine establishment are as guilty as anyone else, and it proves just how it has become part of the landscape of online journalism.
Nonetheless, with the Super Bowl just over a week away, the dog days between February and the new league year in early March usually have a calming effect on the NFL news cycle — except for the Steelers.
There is no end in sight for the constant airing of grievances between the Steelers and their prized wide receiver. Whether it was Mike Tomlin’s end of the season press conference, Art Rooney II going on seemingly every possible media outlet to talk about the state of the team or Brown himself putting out images of him wearing a San Francisco 49ers uniform, the news isn’t like going to go away anytime soon.
With this being a general understanding, ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler put together a very intriguing, and factual, report on how the Steelers and Antonio Brown got to this point. How such a wonderful marriage at one time is on the verge of divorce. He spoke to some anonymous current players, and plenty of former players, to get the low down on Brown’s reputation in the locker room, how he was handled by Mike Tomlin and whether the relationship between Brown and Ben Roethlisberger was a volcano just waiting to erupt.
Either way you look at Fowler’s report, it is the latest bit of damning evidence showing how this dysfunctional family got so out of control it has come to the game’s best wide receiver, who has one of the best QB/WR combinations in NFL history, wanting to find a new home.
Yes, it is that bad.
Check out some of the highlights from the report:
On how beloved Brown is among his teammates
“Everybody could cling to him,” said Chris Hubbard, a Steelers offensive lineman from 2013 to 2017 before signing with the Cleveland Browns last offseason. “And he was cool with everybody. People in that locker room love A.B.”
Ex-teammates usually start with the same line when discussing Brown: hardest worker they’ve ever seen.
Cobi Hamilton, a starting receiver alongside Brown in 2016, said he had multiple talks with Brown about “what s--- he had to go through to be where he is,” and how homeless nights as a teen shaped him.
”Stupid competitive -- never takes a day off, he’s full speed,” Hamilton said. “I know he’s not an a--h--- like [media and fans] are portraying him to be. He worked to have those cars.”
Brown receiving the “Super Star Treatment”
Several say Brown routinely showed up late to team meetings that set up the upcoming game week. If he was loosely on time, he might be the last one to walk through the door. One player went as far to say he didn’t see Brown once in the Wednesday morning meetings during his one season with the team.
Players say Tomlin has a fine system that can range from $1,000 to more than $5,000. Brown, who has a $72.7 million contract and millions more in endorsements, remained unfazed. Two players recalled Brown and receiver Eli Rogers -- once nicknamed “Little A.B.” by some teammates -- walking into the same meeting a few minutes late. Both were told to sit down, but they only remember Rogers getting fined.
Players said Brown was fined from time to time for his tardiness. Tomlin would usually announce the fines as late players entered.
“Tomlin basically could have fined A.B. every day if he wanted to,” one ex-teammate said.
Brown was not made available for comment after interview requests through representatives.
Though most players acknowledge punctuality was not Brown’s strength, he was around when the game plan was installed. He wasn’t skipping whole days.
He used his megawatt personality and infectious work ethic to soften any issues. Hubbard said Brown once apologized to the team for being late to a meeting and said he’d do better.
”He shows up late with a big smile on his face,” said Doug Legursky, a Steelers offensive lineman from 2009-12 and 2015. “You’re not even mad.”
Big Ben and AB
A picture of Brown and Roethlisberger hangs next to Brown’s locker with a personalized message from the quarterback: “A.B., we are unstoppable.” Not many NFL tandems throughout history can top their ability to win on broken plays or timing throws to the sideline.
But dynamic playmaking wasn’t enough in 2018, and despite a relationship built on trust, teammates can’t ignore warning signs.
”We just know they are heated at each other -- it’s not coach Tomlin, but two grown men ... butting heads,” Dupree said.
Brown said all the right things publicly after Roethlisberger criticized him on his 93.7 The Fan radio show for not running a flatter route on a late-game interception in Week 12. But a source said Brown was privately bothered by the slights, which included Roethlisberger saying he wished he had thrown to JuJu Smith-Schuster on all four goal-line downs late in a road loss to Denver.
Roethlisberger has praised Brown on his radio show but also criticized his route running and his sideline attack on a Gatorade cooler in 2017.
Bryant McFadden, a Steelers corner from 2005-08 and 2010-11, doesn’t remember Roethlisberger doing that when he played with him. In those locker rooms, he said, grievances were addressed internally.
”To limit distractions, maybe keeping things internal is best for the team,” McFadden said. “Quarterback is a leadership position. As a leader, I think you should handle criticisms of players differently. It can cause separation.”
There is plenty more to this report, and the layers of the relationship between Brown, the Steelers and his quarterback are just starting to be peeled away. Just wait till Brown finally speaks, something he has been telling fans to expect this offseason.
Yeah, about that offseason with no news...
...get your popcorn ready.