Remember how I said the Steelers and Antonio Brown were going to just have to find a way to coexist?
That article was actually written on New Year’s Day but published on Friday. If you remember New Year’s Day, it was the day before Brown joined former Steelers linebacker James Harrison to watch (some might say mock) head coach Mike Tomlin’s end-of-year press conference in a video that, in a surprise to nobody who has been following the Pittsburgh Steelers the past few years, was posted on social media for all the world to see.
During this video, Harrison, one of the funniest people you’ll ever want to meet (if “funny” is another word for “bitter”) joked that he was about to conduct an exclusive interview with Brown, you know, to get his side of the story.
Of course, that never happened. Instead, the two smirked and smiled and hammed it up for the camera, acting like HHH and Shawn Michaels may have acted back in the day as they mocked Mr. McMahon on an episode of WWE’s Raw (seriously, the two could have spouted terms like “The standard is the standard” and “Obviously....” and it wouldn’t have seemed any more disrespectful).
Really, in my opinion, just days after Brown went AWOL on his team during practice and, ultimately, during a must-win end-of-season game vs. the Bengals, Brown watching (and mocking) Tomlin’s press conference made the whole Facebook Live incident from two years ago seem like an innocent gaffe by a player who simply didn’t know any better. After all, you could pass off Brown’s actions that night in Kansas City following a huge 18-16 victory over the Chiefs in a divisional playoff game as just your typical diva wide receiver—but in the social media age—not realizing the consequences of putting his team’s—and coach’s—locker room business out there for the whole world—especially the New England Patriots—to see.
But the press conference deal with Harrison, a man who parted with the organization last year in the most bitter of ways (he basically forced his release from the team after, among other things, sleeping through linebacker meetings) and then immediately signed with the Patriots, well, that was Facebook Live on steroids (speaking of Harrison).
One thing we can certainly glean from this whole situation is we’ll never have to worry about Tomlin pulling another “Joey Porter” by hiring Harrison as his next outside linebackers coach (“No, no, that’s not the way to do it, No. 90! If you’re not getting to the quarterback, the proper technique is to defy your head coach by saying “S**t happens.”).
But where do the Steelers go from here with Brown? Yeah, sure, it’s January. Yeah, sure, Ben Roethlisberger was all “What locker room blow up? That’s news to me,” during his radio show on 93.7 The Fan last week. Yes, there is plenty of time for cooler heads to prevail between now and, heck, OTAs in just a few months.
But this latest rift involving Brown, Roethlisberger and Tomlin (or, for all we know, it could be between Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster or Brown and Anthony Chickillo) is so screwy, I wonder if it’s really reparable.
I’d like to think it is. But when the protagonist (or antagonist) of the story is doing nothing but dropping cryptic hints on the Internet, while the quarterback is all “Gosh, golly, AB and I are BFF’s,” it’s hard to get to the root of the problem.
All we know is, Tomlin seemed pretty darn angry at his press-conference on Wednesday—and that was without realizing his star receiver and bitter ex-linebacker were mocking him on social media.
Equal trade value, be damned.
Dead cap money, be damned.
Coexisting, be damned.
Can the Steelers survive as a football team without Antonio Brown?
The better question might be: can the Steelers even be a team with Antonio Brown?
Mike Tomlin is a man his players have always respected—even as many fans seem to have little respect for his coaching abilities. If he wants to continue to have the respect of the locker room, he may have to do the unthinkable with his All Pro wide receiver.